banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

Curled, Curved and Folded ear Cats – Part 1

| November 6, 2010
The only widely recognised fold-eared cat is the Scottish Fold and its longhaired version, the Highland Fold (Coupari). These have ears which form a close-lying cap. Also known as Scottish Lop, the Scottish Fold traces back to a female white shorthair farm kitten discovered near Coupar Angus, Perthshire, Scotland in 1961.

The only widely recognised fold-eared cat is the Scottish Fold and its longhaired version, the Highland Fold (Coupari). These have ears which form a close-lying cap. Also known as Scottish Lop, the Scottish Fold traces back to a female white shorthair farm kitten discovered near Coupar Angus, Perthshire, Scotland in 1961.

Cats generally have prick (upright ears) which are triangular in shape. The size, set and exact shape varies from the small ears of Persian cats to the “bat-like” flared ears of some Siamese cats. Some breeds require the base to be more widely flared than others. Some breeds have ears placed close together high on the head, others have wide-set ears with a broad expanse of forehead between. The tips may be rounded, pointed, tufted or fringed depending on the breed.

There is also a rare genetic condition causing the cat to have a second, smaller, pair of ears behind the normal ears. These are apparently non-functional and may be no more than ear flaps with no middle or inner ear section. Though affected cats are generally physically healthy, some have reportedly been lethargic or sluggish which suggests that the condition might affect the brain. This rare condition must not be confused with accounts of “four-eared cats” from China – these were Persian-type cats where the fur inside the ear gave the impression of extra ear-flaps.

In addition to variations on a general theme, there are two distinct ear shapes – folded forwards and curved backwards. Both mutations (or very similar mutations) have occurred more than once.


The Sumxu (Chinese Lop) is now regarded as extinct, but was once found in the area around Peking, China. They were described as longhaired cats with glossy black or yellow coats and pendulous ears. The Sumxu was described in early 1700s as a curiosity, and again in 1796 when a droop-eared cat brought back from China. In his book “Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication” Charles Darwin referred briefly to a drooping eared race of cats in China. In “The Cat” by Lady Cust (1870) it states “Bosman relates that in the province of Pe-chily, in China, there are cats with long hair and drooping ears, which are in great favour with the Chinese ladies; others say this is not a cat but an animal called ‘Samxces'”

This engraving is from Athanasii Kircheri’s book “China Monumentis, Qua Sacris qua Profanis” (1666). The book is written in Latin and describes the Sumxu as being like a cat. The engravings would have been done from descriptions or rough sketches rather than from life. It does not look very feline and is much larger than the domestic cat! Later authorities refer to droop-eared cats.

In volume 4 of his “Histoire Naturelle” (?1767), Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, wrote “The Natural History of The Cat”. This was translated into English in 1781 by William Smellie. According to Buffon, “Our domestic cats, though they differ in colour, form no distinct races. The climates of Spain and Syria have alone produced permanent varieties: To these may be added the climate of Pe-chi-ly in China, where the cats have long hair and pendulous ears, and are the favourites of the ladies. These domestic cats with pendulous ears, of which we have full descriptions, are still farther removed from the wild and primitive race, than those whose ears are erect.”

In a supplement, Buffon added that there was some doubt as to whether the Sumxu was a cat or some other animal: “I formerly remarked, that, in China, there were cats with pendulous ears. This variety is not found any where else, and perhaps it is an animal of a different species; for travellers, when mentioning an animal called Sumxu, which is entirely domestic, say, that they can compare it to nothing but the cat, with which it has a great resemblance. Its colour is black or yellow, and its hair very bright and glittering. The Chinese put silver collars about the necks of these animals, and render them extremely familiar. As they are not common, they give a high price, both on account of their beauty, and because they destroy rats.”

Though reports refer to the Chinese Lop having pendent or pendulous ears (suggesting abnormally long or floppy ears e.g. like a labrador dog) this is probably an exaggeration. In all likelihood, and in the absence of any current examples or pictorial evidence, the ears were folded in a manner similar to the Scottish Fold. In Frances Simpson’s “The Book of the Cat” (1903), contributor H C Brooke wrote “There is said to be a variety of Chinese cat which is remarkable for its pendent ears. We have never been able to ascertain anything definite with regard to this variety. Some years back a class was provided for them at a certain Continental cat show, and we went across in the hope of seeing, and if possible acquiring, some specimens; but alas the class was empty! We have seen a stuffed specimen in a Continental museum, which was a half long-haired cat, the ears being pendent down the sides of the head instead of erect; but do not attach much value to this.”

In 1926, Brooke wrote that “for donkey’s years” Continental cat shows had offered prizes for the Drop-eared Chinese Cat. On each occasion, the cat failed to materialise and Brooke considered it to be mythical. Other writers suggested it was the result of haematomas causing the ears to fold or crumple. Brooke noted that although no-one ever saw the cat itself, one always met “someone who knows someone whose friends has often seen them”. He had been assured by a Chinese gentleman he had met only once that “he knew them well”. HC Brooke, and other fanciers, made enquiries of the Chinese Embassy, of Hagenbeck’s (a major Hamburg animal dealer at the time) and of a “certain well known author, who has lived for years in China and knows that country well”, but to no avail. The American Express Company had instructed their representatives at Shanghai and Peking to make enquiries, again without success. None of the wild animal dealers knew of the Chinese Lop.

The German naturalist, Brehm, had given a very detailed description of the cat in the 1700s. Brehm was usually very accurate. In 1882, Brooke had seen a stuffed specimen in a Continental museum. The specimen was “half-coated with yellowish fur”. He admitted that it might have been a fake or a cat with its ears deformed by canker (i.e. cauliflower ears) that had been presented in all good faith. All avenues of enquiry exhausted, Brooke declared the Chinese Drop-eared cat extinct. The last reported sighting of the Chinese Lop seems to have been in 1938 when a droop-eared cat was imported from China. On that last occasion the mutation was thought to be restricted to white longhaired cats. It is hard say for certain whether these were isolated cases or whether the Chinese Lop was a genuine variety. It cannot even be said with certainty that the trait was an inherited one.

Cats with folded ears have been reported in the Hebrides, Germany and Belgium, but were apparently regarded as no more than isolated curiosities and not bred.

The only widely recognised fold-eared cat is the Scottish Fold and its longhaired version, the Highland Fold (Coupari). These have ears which form a close-lying cap. Also known as Scottish Lop, the Scottish Fold traces back to a female white shorthair farm kitten discovered near Coupar Angus, Perthshire, Scotland in 1961. This cat, Susie, produced some fold-eared kittens. One of these, Snooks, became the founding mother of the breed after Susie’s unfortunate death in 1963. By 1967, numerous “Lop-eared Cats” had been born however the UK cat registries declared the trait to be a deformity and refused to accept the “Scottish Fold” for breed status because of potential ear problems (an inconsistency considering they recognised the tailless Manx). Interest in Scottish Folds in the USA led to breeding being continued there and it was recognised as a breed in 1973. The cat does not suffer undue ear problems and one British registry accepted it in 1983.

The Coupari is the name given to Longhair Folds in the UK, although these are known elsewhere as Highland Folds. The argument is that Coupar Angus is not in the Highlands, however Highland Fold is no more inaccurate than other breed names e.g. Balinese, Tonkinese. Longhaired cats were present in the original Scottish Fold, but the shorthaired variety was preferred because the ear shape was more visible. It was developed in the 1980s and recognised in 1986. It is known by various names: Coupari (in UK), Highland Fold, Longhair Fold and Scottish Fold Longhair.

Kittens are born prick-eared and start to develop the folding at around 4 weeks old. The fold is fully developed at around 3 months of age. The gene causing the folded ear trait is a dominant gene which causes skeletal problems if the cat inherits two copies of the gene. Scottish Folds are therefore always bred to prick-eared to keep the incidence of problems to a minimum. The problems are a thickened tail caused by tail vertebrae fusing and thickened legs with swollen feet due to overgrowth of cartilage around the paws. These side-effects cause problems with walking.

The Poodle Cat (Pudelkatze) is essentially a breed developed from the Scottish Fold and Devon Rex to create a curly coated fold-eared cat – a curly-coated Scottish Fold or fold-eared Devon Rex. It was developed initially in Germany where its future is threatened by rulings prohibiting the breeding of cats with harmful defects. This ruling affects Scottish Fold cats because of the skeletal abnormalities which can occur. The breed is attractive and if breeders are careful to breed only from healthy cats, there is no reason it should not be accepted. Astonishingly, there appears to be the intention of adding Manx into the mix so that the cats are tailless as well. This would create a more dangerous mix of semi-lethal genes since the Manx condition can cause other skeletal abnormalities.

Back in 1981, Phyllis Lauder wrote in “The British, European and American Shorthair Cat” wrote of news from Australia of “interference not beneficial to the domestic shorthairs”. A correspondent, Mrs Batten, had been asked for her views on the idea of crossing Manx with Scottish Folds. Scottish Folds had not yet been recognised. Lauder wrote that the idea was born of “love of change for its own sake and by the desire to meddle” since a Manx/Fold cross would not only produce a freakish-looking cat, it would be a tragedy for the cats – the two breeds had enough to contend with in refuting charges of deformity.

The unrecognised Oriental Fold is a Siamese/Oriental type cat with folded ears (I believe it came from attempts to breed colourpoint Scottish Folds). The Hemingway Fold is an unrecognised variety of fold-eared cat with extra toes. The term “Hemingway” is often used in America to describe polydactyl cats (mitten cats). It results either from a spontaneous folded ear mutation in a polydactyl cat or from accidental or deliberate crossed of Scottish Folds and polydactyls, possibly for curiosity or as attractive pets.
A fold-eared cat aiming for recognition is the Foldex or Exotic Fold. The Foldex is a cat of Exotic (shorthaired Persian) body type developed through crossing Scottish Folds with Exotics. It has a shorter nose than the Scottish Fold but not as short as the Exotic Shorthair. In other respects it is a fold-eared version of the Exotic Shorthair. Facially, the Foldex looks like “a little furry owl”. Like the Scottish Fold, it is prone to the same bone deformities and produces some non-folded offspring.

In 1986 there was a report of a “Hebridean Cat”. The owner said that the tiny ears were a feature of Hebridean and in addition the ears were folded like those of a Scottish Fold. No more was heard of the Hebridean breed.

In the mid-1990s, a fold-eared black cat turned up in a feral cat colony in Essex, England. It was not possible to determine whether the trait was inherited or was a birth defect. It is extremely unlikely to be due to a free-ranging Scottish Fold as these are uncommon in Britain – there would certainly be no free-ranging unneutered Scottish Fold males around.

Copyright & Credit:
Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Sarah Hartwell
Fallsvetclinic – Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic

Category: Breeding and Genetics, Feline Health and Care, Feline Resources

Comments are closed.

banner ad
banner ad