The Internet is full of pictures of Kitlers – cats unfortunate enough to have a black and white pattern on their furs vaguely resembling the facial hair of the leader of Nazi Germany.
A new study suggests that the feline führers’ coat is determined by a faulty gene determining their pattern still in the womb of mother cat.
Called piebald, the pattern – typically a distribution of two colors on an animal’s coat of fur – occurs when pigment cells fail to follow genetic “instructions” at a very early stage of development.
According to a report on the study in the UK paper Independent, scientists hope that the study on how piebald animals develop can shed light on some congenital medical conditions affecting humans, like holes in the heart, also caused by problems relating to cell movements in the womb.
Piebald is any distribution of two fur colors; a cat which is in some places red tabby and in some places white still contains only two colors, since the tabby pattern (itself contain two shades of ginger fur) is considered one “color.”
It is when a cat is born piebald in black and white, and by genetic happenstance gets a small black mark right between the mouth and news, that a “Kitler” is born.
Experimenting on mice, researchers said results showed that piebald patterns are caused by a mutation of a gene called kit, which reduces the rates at which pigment cells multiply. When there are not enough cells to cover the animals coat in entirety, the result is white patches.
Essentially, then, a piebald cat is not really black and white, but rather a black cat, only not “painted” all the way through; the white patches in the fur are akin to partial albinism.
The study was conducted at the universities of Bath and Edinburgh.