Wiveliscombe winged cat report from the November 1899 issue of Strand Magazine – click to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)
In November 1899, as revealed above, London's Strand Magazine contained a short report and accompanying photograph of a most unusual cat. Owned by a lady from Wiveliscombe, Somerset, it seemed just like any other ordinary household moggy - except for one very dramatic difference. Sprouting from its mid-back, i.e. roughly midway between its shoulders and its haunches, was a large pair of furry wings! Amazing as it might seem, this is neither a hoax nor a unique case.
As readers of my writings, especially those dealing with mysteries and anomalies of the feline kind, will be readily aware, back in the early 1990s I revealed the long-awaited answer to the riddle of winged cats (but more about that later), my discovery being further corroborated in subsequent years by veterinary examinations of such animals. Moreover, I have written extensively about winged cats on numerous occasions down through the years from the early 1990s onwards, in various of my books and in many articles (especially for Fortean Times).
Consequently, it was with not a little surprise that I realised only very recently that I have presented scant coverage of such creatures here on ShukerNature. So in order to rectify this grievous omission on my part, here is a detailed history and annotated checklist of winged cats, not only compiled from my various previous writings and researches (and which, you will not be surprised to hear, have been copied and plagiarised extensively online and elsewhere, just like so much of my work – ah well, what is it that they say about imitation and flattery?), but also exclusively including for this present ShukerNature blog article some additional examples and illustrations never previously included in any winged cat compilation.
Click here to discover how I revealed that this decidedly bizarre 17th-Century engraving of a bat-winged cat was most probably an early attempt to depict a colugo or flying lemur (public domain)
WINGED CATS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
The earliest record that I have so far encountered of what appears to be a bona fide winged cat exhibits all the characteristics of the more famous examples that would be documented decades later. In 1854, the celebrated American writer Henry David Thoreau published a book entitled Walden; or Life in the Woods, which recounted the two years that he had purposefully spent living apart from the rest of the world in a self-built cabin amid woodlands by the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. In his book, Thoreau recalled that in 1842 a very peculiar cat lived in a Lincoln farmhouse owned by a Gilian Baker close to the pond. The cat's sex was unknown, but was referred to for convenience by Thoreau as 'she', and according to her owner she had first appeared in the neighbourhood during April 1841, before eventually being taken in by the Baker family. She was specifically referred to locally as a 'winged cat' - for good reason:
...that she was of a dark brownish-grey colour, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming stripes [often misquoted as strips] ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her "wings", which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part flying-squirrel or some other wild animal.
However strange a winged cat might seem, it pales into insignificance beside a crossbreed of cat and flying squirrel, which is truly a zoological impossibility for fundamental taxonomic, genetic, and behavioural reasons.
Incidentally, the reason why I referred to the Thoreau-documented example as "the earliest record that I have so far encountered of what appears to be a bona fide winged cat" is that I also have on file a winged cat illustration that predates it by several centuries, but was clearly not intended to represent a real animal. I discovered it a while ago in a medieval illuminated devotional manuscript entitled the Maastricht Hours, produced in the Netherlands and dating back to the early 1300s. It appears in the margin on the recto side of folio 174. However, as seen here, its wings are not furry, but instead are feathered and brightly-hued, like those of a bird.
Clearly, just like snail-cats (click here for more details) and elephant rats (click here), not to mention a Yoda-lookalike (here) and even a Nosferatu doppelgänger (here), they owe more to the ennui-fuelled imagination of the monks laboriously engaged in the prolonged, boredom-inducing task of creating or transcribing these magnificent works seeking solace in surreptitiously doodling these subversive, humorous marginalia mini-monsters than to anything engendered by Mother Nature!
Meanwhile, in June 1893 a number of English newspapers carried reports of a most unusual court case, featuring the stealing of a winged cat in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. According to these reports, its wings were nothing more than clumps of matted fur. Nevertheless, it evidently must have looked sufficiently strange and novel to have incited someone to steal it from its owner. Here is a facsimile of the actual report that appeared in the Bristol Mercury newspaper for 23 June 1893:
Coverage of the court case re the Leeds winged cat, from the Bristol Mercury, 23 June 1893 - click to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)
On 3 August 1894, Cambridgeshire's Independent Press newspaper carried the following intriguing report:
A live cat with wings resembling those of a duckling is now being exhibited in the neighbourhood by Mr David Badcock of the Ship Inn, Reach [near Peterborough]. The cat which is a year old did not until recently expose such a remarkable freak of nature, but being somewhat roughly handled spread out its wings. The owner charges the sum of 2d for callers in the daytime to see such a strange beast and has commented taking it round the neighbouring villages in the evenings to exhibit.
Sadly, however, it seems that Mr Badcock made too much of a show of his marvellous moggie, because a week later the Independent Press reported that it had been catnapped!
The "Remarkable cat" reported in our last issue has been stolen. It is hoped however the thief or thieves will soon be run down, as the animal, our correspondent understands, has been traced to Liverpool.
Nothing more emerged regarding this story, so whether the cat was reclaimed is unknown.
Delightful stone ornament of a winged cat, albeit of the whimsical feather-winged variety - or should that be pheasant-winged, like the following real-life example? (© Randi MacDonald)
From Cambridgeshire to Derbyshire, and a report from 26 June 1897 in a Matlock newspaper, the High Peak News, that described a doubly-strange winged cat. It had been shot by a Mr Roper of Winster, who had seen it on Brown Edge and mistook it for a fox:
It proved to be an extraordinarily large tomcat, tortoiseshell in colour with fur two and a half inches long, with the remarkable addition of fully-grown pheasant's wings projecting from each side of its fourth rib...Never has its like been seen before, and eyewitnesses state that, when running, the animal used its wings outstretched, to help it over the surface of the ground, which it covered at a tremendous pace.
Ironically, the most unusual characteristic of this particular cat is not its "pheasant's wings", which is probably no more than a fanciful way of describing long filamentous expanses of furry skin (as opposed to feathers!), but rather its sex. Due to the tortoiseshell condition being a sex-linked genetic mutation, virtually all tortoiseshell cats are female, thus making a male tortoiseshell cat if anything even more extraordinary than a winged cat.
A beautiful grey Angora winged cat from Spain, called Angolina, enraptured the Madrid media during May 1950. Owned by Juan Priego, a porter living near to Spain's houses of parliament, Angolina had been purchased in a Madrid pet shop, but had originally derived from Barcelona, together with her two normal, non-winged brothers. In June 1959, a second winged cat was reported from Madrid. Known as Michi, she was owned by an electrician. Not surprisingly, Angolina's eyecatching appearance attracted all manner of explanations. The most memorable of these, however, must surely be the theory that she signalled the return of a race of prehistoric flying cats originating from before the Great Flood of Noah!
In 1950, a fully-grown female tortoiseshell cat called Sandy gave her owners and neighbours in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, a considerable shock when suddenly, without any previous warning, she began to grow a sizeable pair of wings on her shoulders! As a result, Sandy became so famous in the area that she was eventually displayed for a time in a local carnival.
One morning prior to the 1970s, the Manchester builder's firm of Banister Walton and Co in Trafford Park received an uninvited visitor of a very unusual kind. A dark, fluffy kitten strayed into their yard, and when the foreman picked it up he noticed to his surprise that it had two furry growths on its back. The kitten decided to make the yard its home, staying there for several years, and acquiring for the firm an appreciable amount of local publicity, because after about 12 months the kitten's 'growths' had matured into a pair of 11-in-long wings. And as if these were not strange enough, this peculiar animal's tail was also very odd. Instead of being long and slender like that of most cats, it was broad and flattened. Although a star during its lifetime, after its death Manchester's flat-tailed cat with wings was gradually forgotten, until later workers at the building firm began doubting that it had ever existed. Happily, its reality was confirmed on 23 September 1975, when, responding to one such worker's request for proof, the Manchester Evening News published a photograph of this feline wonder.
Sometimes, there have been allegations that cats like these can actually utilise their wings for flying! On 11 June 1933, for instance, the Sunday Dispatch newspaper published a photo of a black-and-white cat with extremely impressive wings (arising from just in front of its hindquarters) which it could raise up and down. It had been found during the evening of 9 June, prowling in the stables of Mrs Hughes Griffiths of Summerstown, Oxford, who alerted Oxford Zoo. Shortly afterwards, the zoo's managing director Frank Owen and its curator W.E. Sawyer successfully netted the animal unharmed, and took it back with them to the zoo. What makes this specimen particularly interesting is that according to Mrs Griffiths, it "used its wings in a manner similar to a bird", enabling it to leap considerable distances.
An even more spectacular winged cat was the fearsome specimen shot in northern Sweden during June 1949 after it had supposedly swooped down upon a child. However, it is highly unlikely that it actually "swooped" - it had, most probably, simply jumped upon the child's back or shoulders unexpectedly from behind. Nevertheless, this specimen does have one special claim to fame, the biggest wingspan on record for any winged cat - an astonishing 23 in!
Yet even these remarkable examples seem positively mundane in comparison with the feline horror reported from the community of Alfred, in Ontario, Canada, during 1966. Black in colour, it was graphically referred to as a vampire cat, because it not only bore two 7-in-long furry wings on its back, but also possessed a pair of lengthy, needle-sharp fangs protruding from its mouth. Most bizarre of all, however, was the sensational claim by local eyewitnesses that this eerie beast could truly fly - screaming ferociously as it soared above the ground on outstretched wings, scaring frightened onlookers, and attacking normal, earthbound cats. Its reign of terror lasted for several weeks, but ended on 24 June, when it was shot dead by shopkeeper Jean J. Revers. The body of Alfred's extraordinary 'vampire cat' was initially buried, but it had attracted such attention when alive that it was soon exhumed and made available for a scientific autopsy, performed on 30 June by Dr E.B. Meas, director of the Kemptville Agricultural School's veterinary laboratory nearby. When its supposed wings were examined, however, they proved merely to be a loose, ragged extension of matted fur, sprouting from its back's lower, lumbar region and insufficiently substantial to support any form of true flight. Furthermore, the cat itself was found to have been almost starved, and rabid - explaining its insane, vicious attacks upon other animals and people. All in all, it was in such a poor state of health that it would certainly have been too weak even to walk or run properly, let alone fly - making even more puzzling the statements by eyewitnesses that it had indeed been observed flying, and over an appreciable period of time.
Canadian winged cat history closely repeated itself in October 1993, for this was when another savage winged cat from that same country and again gifted with supposed flying abilities – or at least prodigious powers of leaping – was shot dead after attacking a cat and a dog, this time in Ayersville, Quebec. According to a report published in L'Argenteuil on 4 October 1993, and which included a photograph of the dead black-and-white cat's carcase with its black-furred wings raised above its body, after leaping 40 ft and attacking the two animals it had hidden under the porch of Ayersville resident Conrad Larocque, but was shot dead by him with seven 22-gauge bullets. The subsequent fate of this winged cat's carcase, claimed in the report to have weighed 20 lb, is unknown.
Newspaper report re Thomas-Mitzi, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 June 1959 – click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Philadelphia Inquirer, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis educational/review purposes only)
No less controversial, but for a very different reason, was a winged cat called Thomas or Mitzi, the name depending upon which of the two parties claiming ownership of this curious creature was its rightful owner. The case went to court on 5 October 1959, in West Virginia's Pineville, where teenager Douglas Shelton said that he had found 'Thomas' (actually a female cat!) in a tree during May of that year. Disputing his claim was Mrs Charles Hicks, who stated that 'Thomas' was really 'Mitzi', who had run away from her home some time earlier. Before any ruling could be given, however, the case offered up a very surprising climax. When the cat was brought into the court as an official exhibit, it was found to lack the vital feature required by any bona fide winged cat. Thomas-Mitzi was wingless! In July, it had apparently shed its wings, but they had been kept afterwards in a cardboard box, and were shown by Shelton to the judge. Following this shock disclosure, Mrs Hicks announced that the cat was not hers after all, and one of America's most unusual court cases was duly dismissed.
A year earlier, but attracting far less attention than that of Thomas-Mitzi, another American winged cat had also been the subject of a court case. One day during late July 1958, the disputed creature in question had turned up unheralded at the home of Mr and Mrs Overbey, who lived in Sinai, Boston, in Massachusetts. Mrs Overbey decided to keep their unexpected visitor, and exhibited it in a wire mesh cage in their barn, where for the next few days it attracted many visitors anxious to see such a strange animal. However, one of these visitors, a neighbour named Mrs Alice Ferrell, claimed that she was the owner of this cat, and said that its name was Susie (notwithstanding the fact that it was male! – what is it about winged cats that seems to cause such ambiguity when naming them??). The resulting dispute between the two women became so heated that the case finally went to court, where, after much deliberation, the presiding judge awarded ownership to Mrs Ferrell – not that it made any difference, however, because by this time the cat had vanished, believed by both parties to have been stolen by some unknown third party.
Yet again in America, but this time Pennsylvania, a one-year-old tomcat named Fluffy, owned by 11-year-old Barbara Grimm of Georges Twp, hit the headlines in May 1965 when he began sprouting a pair of laterally-extending wings a fortnight earlier. A photo of Fluffy with outspread wings appeared in the Evening Standard (Uniontown, Penns.) on 12 May 1965, but this is the first time that Fluffy has been documented in any winged cat review.
Newspaper report re Fluffy, from the Evening Standard (Uniontown, Penns., 12 May 1965 – click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Evening Standard, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis educational/review purposes only)
In August 1995, Steve Volk revealed that several years earlier, while visiting the Isle of Wight off southern England, he spotted a taxiderm specimen of a winged cat in a tourist attraction exhibiting other stuffed animals, as well as waxworks of historical people associated with the island. It would be interesting to see if this cat could still be traced.
Also first brought to public attention in 1995 was a friendly tabby cat with very fluffy fur that almost concealed its distinctive wings. Fortunately, however, they were noticed by Martin Milner, when he bent down to stroke the animal while passing through its home village of Backbarrow, during a holiday in Cumbria, northern England, in April 1995. He later learnt that the winged tabby belonged to Backbarrow's retired postman.
In May 2007, news emerged of a winged cat in China – the first recorded from that vast country. Owned by Granny Feng of Xianyang city in Shaanxi province, the white four-year-old tom with a handsome black and white face was the proud possessor of a pair of hairy 8-inch-long wings, and has been pictured in media accounts worldwide. His wings began as a small pair of bumps in April 2007, but within a month had quickly grown into their much-photographed form. According to Feng, they contain bone, but this is more likely to be gristle, or even hard pads of matted fur. Intriguingly, Feng also claims that her tom grew his wings after being harassed by many female cats in heat.
Turkish winged cat (© owner unknown – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
During 2008, a winged cat was reported in Oguz, Turkey. Owned by a Mrs Kuhak, this somewhat belligerent grey-furred specimen meows loudly whenever anyone comes to her door, then shakes its wings angrily if the visitor is not deterred – as confirmed in video clips recorded by Kuhak on her mobile phone and accessible on YouTube (at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tbFyX0BIgE). Happily, the enticement of a bowl of yoghurt offered by its owner is apparently sufficient to pacify this bizarre feline guard-dog.
Most recently, longstanding Czech friend and correspondent Miroslav 'Mirek' Fišmeister kindly brought to my attention a Moravian winged cat. Publicised during May 2017 by the Czech media, the cat in question is known as Mike, and has been looked after for the past year by the Semrad family from Vržanov, a small Moravian village near the city of Jihlava on the border of Moravia and Bohemia. Until mid-2017, Mike had sported a very dense coat that outwardly rendered him just like any other such cat, but when he shed it the hitherto-unsuspected presence of a pair of long furry 'wings' was revealed, sprouting from his flanks just in front of his haunches. Moreover, whereas some such appendages are in reality nothing more than clumps of unshed matted fur, in Mike's case his wings are apparently sensitive to touch, contain cartilage, and are still growing, according to various bemused scientists who have examined Mike. Consequently, it has been suggested that perhaps they represent externally-visible indications of an otherwise-concealed, internal twin, one that did not develop and separate normally during embryogeny. Although many cases of so-called parasitic twins are indeed known from a wide range of animals, including humans, it is far more likely that the correct explanation for Mike's wings is that they are the result of a rare genetically-induced skin condition that I'll be discussing here shortly. An excellent video of Mike displaying his wings is still currently viewable here.
Other examples on file include: a black-and-white winged cat from Anglesey, revealed in 1986, and providentially photographed just before it unexpectedly shed its wings; a similar cat from Sheffield called Sally (despite being a tom!), photographed in 1939; a winged cat of disputed sex called Thomas-Bessy, born in 1900 and whose rightful ownership had been contested in an English court case reminiscent of America's more recent version featuring Thomas-Mitzi; a Dutch example from 2008 named Prul, owned by a vet (more about Prul later); and a Scottish feral specimen from 2010, regularly fed and photographed by journalist Derek Uchman (ditto).
FINDING THE ANSWER IN F.C.A.
Having long been interested in these furry anomalies, during the 1990s I instigated a thorough investigation by scanning the veterinary literature in search of further information and potential clues regarding their identity. It became clear that certain supposed winged cats were merely ordinary cats with thick wads of matted fur that looked vaguely wing-like and passively flapped up and down when the cats walked. However, during my search I also came upon several veterinary articles concerning a very obscure, genetically-inherited skin disorder of cats called feline cutaneous asthenia (F.C.A.).
Cats displaying F.C.A. have abnormally fragile skin that is exceptionally elastic in nature, especially on their shoulders and along their back, readily stretching to yield furry wing-like extensions that can be raised slightly if sufficient muscle fibres are present. Sometimes, these wings eventually peel off, but without any bleeding occurring, thereby creating the illusion that they have been shed or have moulted.
One of the most striking examples, documented in 1977 by American veterinary researchers Drs Donald F. Patterson and Ronald R. Minor in the journal Laboratory Investigation, was a young tom with short grey fur. The skin on its back's lumbar region was so hyperextensible that when gently lifted it could extend to a distance above the spine equal to 22 per cent of the cat's entire body length! Their paper included a photograph recording this incredible feat - it portrayed a classic 'winged cat'. The same was also true regarding the others documented in those articles. From these, it was perfectly clear that the extraordinary, hitherto-unexplained winged cats of magazine and newspaper reports were in reality specimens suffering from F.C.A.
The mystery of the winged cats was finally solved - but why had no-one previously exposed the link between these creatures and F.C.A.? The answer is quite straightforward. Those scientists familiar with F.C.A. did not know about winged cat reports in the popular press, and those mystery animal investigators familiar with winged cat reports in the popular press did not know about F.C.A.! As both a scientist and an investigator of mystery animals, however, I was in the happy position of being able to make the crucial connection.
More than a decade after making that connection, I was contacted by Martine Smids, a small animals veterinarian from the Netherlands, who is the proud owner of a bona fide winged cat - a male called Prul. In a series of emails to me, beginning on 24 January 2008, Martine provided the following information (as well as some excellent photographs):
I own a so called 'winged cat'. It was brought to our practice in November 2005 at the age of 6 months. He was brought in because he had lost the complete skin of his tail, in a fight with a dog. The tail needed to be amputated. The owner...decided to leave the cat with us (this instead of euthanising the cat immediately). The cat didn't seem to be sick or unhappy, so I decided to keep the cat, although I didn't know what was wrong with him at that point. After weeks of diagnostic investigations and talking to veterinarian dermatologists, the diagnosis of Cutis [sic] Asthenia was made.
Now, 2 years later, the cat is doing fine. Of course he is an indoor cat and he wears most of the time a little baby-sweater to protect his skin...Whenever he has skin lesions, I treat them very easy with agraffes (staples), he doesn't need sedation for this and even the largest wounds heal within a week. His wounds don't bleed and don't seem to hurt really...
Prul hasn't always 'wings', he only really has them when he has been licking on a certain spot for a long time, his skin stretches then into folds, sometimes his skin tears. These folds usually disappear after a while, when he stops licking.
Martine's Prul corroborates the direct link between winged cats and FCA that I’d uncovered back in the early 1990s - thereby bringing to a satisfactory conclusion an extraordinary feline mystery that had perplexed both the general public and the public media for many generations.
On 17 April 2012, I was delighted to receive a batch of photographs and the following details from Malcolm Blacow of South County Dublin, concerning the first Irish winged cat of which I'm aware:
For over a year now, a semi feral cat has been living - on and off (and after seeing off the previous tenant) - in my garden in South County Dublin. It is a cute and affectionate ginger...which has been named variously Little Miss Monster, Little Mr Monster (it's not clear yet what sex it is) and The Bucket (for its eating ability) - originally showed no signs of the genetic mutation it now plainly exhibits. I'm not sure how old the cat is, but I get the feeling it's quite young so maybe that's a contributory factor.
The wings were located towards the rear end of the cat's back, a common site for wing development, and as the cat's fur is clearly well-groomed rather than matted, the wings are not merely clumps of matted fur. Instead, this animal seems to be a genuine F.C.A.-exhibiting winged cat.
And on 14 September 2010, I received the following details and photographs of a feral winged cat that was being regularly fed by Scottish journalist Derek Uchman of Montifieth in Angus:
We have had a very timid stray cat visit our door for food for a couple of years now. As its fur is extremely long, and we are unable to groom it let alone entice it indoors, it gets very matted. This fur then slowly peels back to reveal a pair of "wings". Purely composed of hair they cannot be "flapped"...After a period of several months, the whole lot drops off, and the process begins again.
From his description and pictures, it was clear that in this particular case the wings did not derive from F.C.A. but were merely pads of matted fur, but a winged cat is still a winged cat, regardless of the mechanism by which its wings have developed.
After contacting Derek directly, I learnt from him that he had retained the wings that the cat had shed a few months ago. Moreover, he was happy to give them to me if I would like them. Needless to say, my reply was such that, just three days later, a Special Delivery package arrived to my home, containing a most remarkable unnatural history specimen. It consisted of a thick, matted, yet clean mass of grey-streaked brown fur constituting two extensions (one longer than the other), and was remarkably resilient in texture, even though there was no skin or connective tissue attached. So now, among my many other zoological curios is a sealed transparent case containing the shed wings of a bona fide winged cat (click here for more photos).
Finally: continuing my previously-promised intermittent series of early cryptozoological and other anomalous animal articles of mine reproduced here on ShukerNature from their defunct original British and continental European magazines, I have dipped back into my archives to uncover one of my earliest winged cat articles, appearing in print only a short while after my F.C.A. revelation.
Published on 8 September 1993 in the now long-defunct British weekly magazine Me, it covered all of the major examples on record at that time (plus a photograph of the Manchester builders yard's flat-tailed winged cat), and here it is:
My winged cat article in the 8 September 1993 issue of the long-defunct British weekly magazine Me – please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Nor could I end this article without including, for the first time in any of my winged cat coverages, the following brief but memorable (albeit highly mystifying) report brought to my attention by indefatigable bibliographical researcher Richard Muirhead. Published on 10 October 1906 in a Minnesota newspaper entitled the Duluth News-Tribune, its subject may, or may not, have been a winged cat, but it is certainly deserving of attention:
A CAT WITH WINGS
The boatswain of "The Caspian," an English schooner, brought with him from India a strange animal bird, which he always referred to as his "Tabby." It certainly looked more like a cat than anything else, but it was probably some freak of the animal world. It had two pairs of wings, but could fly only with difficulty, like a tame duck.
For the most comprehensive coverages of winged cats ever published, containing a number of additional cases not reported in this present ShukerNature blog article of mine, please see the relevant, respective chapters in my books Dr Shuker's Casebook and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.
My thanks to all of the winged cat eyewitnesses named here who kindly supplied me with details of their sightings, and to Richard Muirhead for generously providing me with archive material concerning several winged cat cases, including some that were entirely new to me.