Is Kemi a Black Bear or a Brown Bear?

Imagine my shock when I encountered a calendar (last year’s Cat Gallery) that implied that most black cats are not actually black, but brown. I felt defensive on behalf of my bear, whose name Kemi comes from the Ancient Egyptian word for black, “Kemet”, which incidentally is also the name of Egypt – the black soil of the Nile in contrast to the surrounding red desert. Did we mis-name our bear?

Luckily, we have a feline geneticist in our midst who can get to the bottom of this question and help settle Kemi’s identity issues. Well, really my identity issues on his behalf, because he is a happy bear regardless of the color of his fur. We at the Miao Chronicles are greatly honored that Oldcat of ThreeCatYard has chosen to tackle Kemi’s question.  Professor Tashi highly recommends Oldcat’s informative and accessible analysis, and warns students that there may be a pop quiz later.

Question of the Day: No Black Cats?

A Black Bear with White Tufts
Kemi, Jan 2011

Many shades of Bear
Come closer for a snorgle

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24 Responses to Is Kemi a Black Bear or a Brown Bear?

  1. That’s fascinating! Of course Kemi is black. Silly calendar. *grin*

  2. elizabethannewrites says:

    As far as I’m concerned, my Bear is black. But I’d love him no matter what color anyone else cared to think he is.

    *snorgles Kemi through the screen*

  3. Mr. Guilt says:

    You may be aware there is no distinct species of cat that is a panther–they are either leopards or jaguars (depending on the continent) with black spots on a black body. In the sun, I’ve seen the spots.

    I’ve been trying to decide if Luna, like her orange brother, is a tabby. In bright sun, I can see dark black stripes. The base coat looks black most of the time, but lately, I’ve seen hints of a brownish/orangish hue. Given that half her litter mates were orange tabbies, it makes a lot more sense.

    • Oldcat says:

      All cats are tabby, in that they have a Tabby pattern gene regardless of whether it shows. A second gene (the Agouti) can ‘repaint’ a hair to produce an essentially all-black cat like Mani. This repainting doesn’t work on Orange cats, so they always show tabby striping to some extent.

      • littlemiao says:

        This makes so much sense now. I was noticing faint stripes on my brother’s black tuxie kitten when he was six weeks, but now that he’s older I can’t see them anymore.

        So all cats are by default black and by default tabbies?

        • Oldcat says:

          The “Black” locus has three options, although “full black” is the most common. The other two are called ‘chocolate’ and ‘cinnamon’. The pigment is the same in all cases, but the shape of the grains is different in the other two and appear to be a lighter, brownish shade.

        • Lurkertype says:

          TK had stripes when he was young, but you can’t see them nowadays. He was still a bit stripey on the haunches till he was fully grown. Like a quagga cat.

    • littlemiao says:

      I actually didn’t know that about panthers. Fascinating! So Luna is a little mini-panther.

  4. feline fc is jet-black in winter, and tans brown in the sun – no idea what that makes hime, except slightly crisped…!

  5. Lauri says:

    Great pics and I love learning new things! Thanks, lm and Oldcat! 🙂
    I love to just look at all of my animals…but Luna (calico) and Teagan (dilute calico) are especially fun to gaze at….and try to figure out how their colors work!

  6. elizabethannewrites says:

    My gorgeous old grey/brown Tabby, Whitewall, lost all her fur one summer (poor kitty) and I was amazed to see that her skin seemed to be the same color pattern as her fur. (When her fur grew back in it was exceptionally lovely and soft and floofy — she was a longhair.)

    • Oldcat says:

      Yes, the skin follows the hair color. So you can have a calico cat even in breeds when they are always bald.

      • Lurkertype says:

        Redscylla has two naked kitties and you can see the pattern they’d have if they had fur — see her WP for a photo, although I don’t remember if hers is private or not, so you might not be able to see after all…

        ANYway, one of hers is clearly a cowcat.

        • Check out Sphynx kitties. Naturally hairless (for all practical purposes) but you can see all kinds of markings on their skin.

          There are several sphynx cat bloggers out there, if you look a little, and probably catteries as well.

  7. Mr. Guilt says:

    And Beso, who will likely be larger than Eddy, is big Siberian tiger.

    (been saying that too him all day–it’s fun!)

    The term in the case of the panther is “melanistic.” I suppose you could say that Luna is a melanistic tabby. Examples of melanistic jaguars:

    San Diego: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bontempscharly/4767894009/in/set-72157624436144224
    Toronto (with a not-so-melanistic roommate): http://www.flickr.com/photos/bontempscharly/6202179312/in/photostream

    (I’ve been blogging for a cat conservation group. Guess what my next post is going to be…)

  8. msmouse7 says:

    Koko, was my black cat with blue eyes. The vet said he was really deep brown, but he always looked black to me. Stunning cat with those blue eyes!

  9. Very interesting information here! We’re learning today 😀
    ::scratches Kemi through the screen::

Miao & Purr!

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