What makes a Rex?
breed of cat has some sort of distinguishing feature which makes it different
from the other breeds. Those cats whose unique feature is their curly coat are
referred to as rex cats. The term “rex” comes from the world of rabbit
breeding and it refers to breeds that have no top coat and only the soft
undercoat. For this reason it was used in cat breeding with the original breed
of rex cat, the Cornish Rex which is a rex in the same sense as the rex
rabbit, having no top coat, but only the soft undercoat which is also curly.
When the Devon Rex came along and even though the breed has a topcoat as well
as the soft, curly undercoat, the name stuck,
because of that similarity of curls on the coat. Over the years as new breeds with curly hair have developed,
the term “rex” is generally used to refer to any breed that has a mutation
to the coat, hence, a Rex Cat. And
although the Sphynx is not considered a Rex, it should be mentioned here as it
obviously is a mutation to the coat in that it has no coat but also because of
it’s relationship to another Rex cat, The Devon Rex. The Sphynx and the Devon Rex are genetically related to one
another, as they are alleles. When
bred together, somewhat more or less naked/fuzzy kittens will be born.
A Cornish and Sphynx and any other Rex will give hairy cats.
Even a Sphynx and other hairless breeds (the
Don Hairless and the Peterbald) will give haired cats, as the other hairless breeds are genetically haired cats, but
phenotypically bald. There have been other hairless mutations (in Hawaii for instance) which are not know to the general public, nor
developed into the breed, however these were complete dominant, so these hairless cats would have produced naked kittens, simply
because their dominant traits overruled any other trait. The Don Hairless and Peterbald are phenotypically naked, however this
nakedness is incomplete or has a variable expression, hence its nakedness varies between fully coated via (partly) curly coated
to sticky bald.
A Brief History of other Rex Breeds
Written by and reprinted with permission from Anthony Nichols at: http://mysite.freeserve.com/quincunx
The first wave of curly coated cats also included the German Rex. Other rex cats cropped up from time to time, but none were
developed for a while until a "new wave" came along about twenty years ago and a handful of new breeds became established.
As the cat fancy is relatively young compared to the breeding of other animals it is possible for new varieties to grow up fairly
quickly and every new year sees a new type of cat making its debut. A fair share of these have been rexes and now, as we go
into the new millennium, there is a whole new generation of curlies waiting in the wings.
Before I introduce these cats to you I will shed some light on the roots of what makes rexes different from other cats. Cats
actually have four different types of hair. The whiskers (or vibrissae) are one and the other three make up the fur. They are the
down hairs, the awn hairs and the guard hairs. The down and awn hairs are short, soft and fluffy, acting as an insulating layer
to keep the cat warm. The guard hairs are longer and much thicker, protecting the top of the coat against the elements. Many
rexes do have all these types of hair, but some, such as the Cornish and German, just have the down hairs. The feature that they all share is that the hair follicles themselves, which are normally round, are oval, causing the hair to grow in a curl or a
wave. There are no colour restrictions in any of the rex breeds and any hue can be seen.
The first rex was discovered fifty years ago in Bodmin in Cornwall. Kallibunker, as he was called, was born along with four
straight haired litter mates on July 21, 1950 and was the founding father of the Cornish Rex breed. His owner Nina Ennismore
planned a breeding programme with another cat lover Brian Stirling-Webb and bred Kallibunker to his straight coated mother
Serena resulting in three kittens, two of which were rexes. Surprisingly, launching the breed was a slow process and it was
not until seventeen years later that the breed was given official recognition by the GCCF. The Cornish Rex is a lean and svelte
cat, with a flexible, whip-like tail and a long, large-eared face. The coat is a set of silky ripples, close to the body. It is
characteristically a playful and extroverted cat.
The Devon Rex was discovered in 1960 when a Beryl Cox found a kitten she called Kirlee in a field at the bottom of her garden
in Buckfastleigh. When Kirlee was mated to a Cornish Rex only straight haired kittens were born, so it was decided to
establish the Devon as a separate breed. The Devon has very large, low-set ears and a short face. The body is slender,
although they have a broad chest. They have short, curled whiskers and a wavy coat, which is a looser and less rippled wave
than the Cornish. The are agile, flexible and active with a devoted, friendly temperament. Some people describe them as being
dog-like as they like to follow their owners around, play fetch and often wag their tails when excited.
The original trio is completed by the German Rex. In August 1951 Doctor Rose Scheuer-Karpin was working in a hospital in
Berlin called the Hufeland Krankenhaus when she befriended a female black cat who she called
Laemmchen, (which means Lambkin). She had been living in the hospital grounds for about four years and was fed by the nurses who let her sleep in
the basement where she also reared at least one litter of kittens. Doctor Scheuer-Karpin adopted Laemmchen and let her
continue having litters with her other cat, a straight haired male named Blackie, but at the time she could find no one
interested in working on the breed with her. Then in 1953 she got in touch with a group of Cornish Rex breeders in England
who gave her encouragement, but Laemmchen would not mate with any of her sons and only had eyes for Blackie. It was not
until 1956 that Blackie disappeared and Laemmchen mated with her son Friedolin. This mating produced three rexes and one
straight coated and the breeding programme continued from there. One cat was sent to Britain, but died in quarantine and
German Rexes have not yet made it back to our shores. Others went to the famous feline geneticist Professor Letard in Paris, who was the first person to show the German Rex at the Paris Cat Club in 1960. During the
60's American breeders Mr. and Mrs. Muckenhoupt imported cats to start their own breeding programme. Unfortunately the breed lost popularity to the other
rexes but in 1968 the Barendsfield family started a new breeding programme with three cats called Brutus, Beatrix and
Jeanette. The 1980s saw a resurgence of interest with numbers now increasing in Germany and other countries, (including
Brazil!) and recognition granted by FIFe in 1982. German Rexes are medium cats with rounded heads. They have a similar
ripple to their close cousins the Cornish rex, but have a thicker coat.
These original three breeds have led directly to other cats. There has been a Longhaired Devon Rex which has a shaggy coat
and has not been seriously developed as a breed. There have been breeding programmes to work on a Longhaired Cornish Rex,
but so far these cats have not met with great enthusiasm. The Angora German Rex, or Longhaired German Rex, however
does exist and is a significant part of current breeding programmes in Germany.
The Devon Rex has given rise to another breed, which is called the Poodle Cat or Pudelkatze. This breed was first developed
in 1987 in Starnberg in Germany by Doctor Rosemarie Wolf and has now spread to other countries in Europe. It resulted from
crossings between Devon Rexes and Scottish Folds. It is a large, healthy cat which clearly benefits from hybrid vigour. With
its folded ears and curly coat it does bear a clear resemblance to its canine namesake. It is in essence a fold eared Devon,
but tends to have a slightly bigger chunkier body and a thicker, more dense coat like
The American Cornish Rex should also be considered as a separate breed as it is similar to its English cousin only in name
and has a different look and genetic history. Recently Burmese breeders have recognized
American Burmese and European Burmese as separate breeds and at some point this could also happen with the Cornish. The American Cornish Rex started
as a hybrid between Cornish and German Rexes and was then heavily crossed with Orientals to create a much more delicate
creature than the English version. It is called the greyhound of the cat world and has the longest legs of any cat. The breed
standards are different and the cats also have different personalities with the American Cornish Rexes being much more vocal,
reflecting their Oriental ancestry.
In America there is another breed originating from the Cornish Rex; the Si-Rex. This was developed by crossing American
Cornish Rexes with Siamese. It was given full recognition as a separate breed in 1986. However, in the UK we class
Si-Rexes as just another pattern and not a separate breed.
The second wave of curly cats started with the American Wirehair, which was discovered in 1966 in Vernon, New York in the
form of a red and white kitten called Adam. A rex breeder called Mrs. O'Shea bought him for $50 and started a breeding
programme. Official recognition came in 1977. The breed has now spread around the world but remains most popular in the
USA. This mutation was different from the others which had come before it because it resulted from a dominant gene, so only
one parent needs to be curly in order for the kittens to be curly too. The cats are very similar to their close cousins the American Shorthairs, but are slightly smaller. The coat is crinkled and crimped feeling coarse when stroked in one direction and silky in the
other. They are said to be quiet and intelligent cats, devoted to their owners and more often than not "top cat" when they share
a home with other felines. Their fur has led to them being dubbed "the punk of the feline world".
The eighties saw the arrival of a new generation of rex cats, which changed the cat fancy's perception of what a rex was. The
most dramatic departure was The Selkirk Rex with its chunky body and thick coat. The Selkirk Rex Longhair and the Selkirk
Rex Shorthair were both developed from one special cat who was discovered in Wyoming in 1987 by a Persian breeder called
Jeri Newman. She named the cat Miss DePesto after the secretary in the 80's TV show
"Moonlighting" who always spoke in rhyme, loved cats and had long curly hair. The name of the breed came from her stepfather's surname. Newman mated Miss
DePesto with her black Persian Photo Finish and out of the resulting six kittens three were curly coated like their mother. She
then realized that this was a dominant gene. The body type of the Selkirk was modeled
on Persians, British Shorthairs and Exotic Shorthairs so out crossing to these poplar cats meant that Selkirk numbers increased fairly rapidly and recognition was
granted in 1990. The coat is plush, thick and stands out from the body with loose wavy curls. Although it is close to the
Persian and Exotic its face should not be too flat.
However, the Selkirk Rex was not the first breed created from applying the rex gene to Persians. The Bohemia Rex was
discovered six years earlier in 1981 in Liberec in The Czech Republic. Persian breeders were surprised when a pair of pedigree
Persian cats Adonis and Apoline produced a litter of curly kittens. Research showed that other curly kittens had cropped up in
Persian lines which were traced back to two blue Persian males imported from Germany in the
1970s. Geneticist Professor Varecjek became involved and suggested that instead of being a spontaneous mutation these cats were the result of German Rex breeders using Persians as outcrosses, but perhaps the true origin of the curls will remain a mystery. The breed has
progressed much more slowly than the Selkirk Rex because it is a recessive gene. However numbers are increasing and in
1994 the breed was presented at the FIFe annual assembly. The cats are essentially Persian in type, but without ultra noses.
The coat is very soft, falling in small, tight spirals and crimps, with looser curls on the back. They have the typical, docile,
affectionate Persian personality.
The third cat of this second wave of rexes is the LaPerm, which comes in both Longhaired and Shorthaired varieties. In her
cherry farm in Oregon Linda Koehl kept a group of working cats. One of these named Speedy gave birth to a litter of six kittens
in 1982. One of these kittens, a female who was to be given the name Curly, was born bald and slowly developed a curly coat.
Curly went on to have kittens of her own who shared their mother's special characteristic and more curly cats appeared in the
orchards. After a while the Koehls realised that they had something special and began controlled breeding. A growing number of breeders joined her and in 1995 the LaPerm was accepted as a new breed by TICA. They are small to medium cats with
lean semi-foreign bodies, long necks and wedge shaped heads. Their silky single coats are made up of ringlets covering the
whole body with the longhairs and plush, tight curls with the shorthairs. They are said to be smart, easy-going and extremely
loving and affectionate.
The popularity of the LaPerm has already led to the development of another new variety; the Skookum. These cats were
created by crossings between LaPerms and Munchkins and are small with short legs and curly ringlets. They have been
called "the Shirley Temple of the cat world". They are essentially rexed Munchkins as opposed to short-legged LaPerms as
after the first generation breeders do not breed back to LaPerms. They come in both Longhaired and Shorthaired varieties and
are playful, people-loving and kittenish, even as adults.
There are a handful of other young hopefuls waiting to make an impact on the cat fancy. The Dutch Rex was first bred in 1985
and has a coarse, wavy coat with a slightly bristly feel to it. The Maine Coon Rex, nick-named Maine Wave, is a rexed version
of the Maine Coon, with fine, frizzy, crinkled fur, which started popping up in pedigree litters in the 1980s. Some breeders
considered the coats to be undesirable and neutered all their rexes and rex gene carriers, risking loosing this exciting new
gene before others had taken the chance to work with it. However, others appreciated the cats and when they have appeared
at cat shows they have generated much interest. This new gene has not yet been applied to a short-haired coat, which would
also provide an intriguing new variety, but with many Maine Coon breeders being vehemently opposed to rexes only time will
tell what the future has in store for this attractive variety. The Missouri Rex cropped up in the early 1990s and is a shorthaired
cat with smooth wavy fur, a semi-cobby body and large low set ears. The Urals Rex is one of the stars of the newly emerging
Russian cat fancy and was discovered in 1991. There is also the possibility of a new breed in the Dakota Rex, which is still
in its early stages.
There is no doubt scope for more curly cats to appear. In fact, who knows, perhaps as you read this somewhere in the world
an unusual and unique kitten is being born who will found a curly dynasty of its own. Rexes are certainly increasing in
popularity; their curls add something special and distinctive, making them different from other cats. But any rex owner will tell
you that this is only half the magic. Live with a rex and you will see that their fabulous personalities are what really makes
people fall in love with them.
All Rights Reserved ®: No part of the above can
be copied or used in any manner without consent of the author.
LaPerm: Uluru BC Star Flower photo courtesy of A.D. Lawrence.
Sphynx: Sanspelo Ms Cherokee Warrior photo courtesy Fitzgerald Usmany
Cornish Rex: Heatwave's King Of Cool Of Rainbowpaw photo
courtesy of Hugo Ban and Jim Stacy at Rainbowpaw Cattery: www.rainbowpaw.net
Devon Rex: Murrmal Pansy photo courtesy of Anthony Nichols © Robert Fox.
Selkirk Rex: GC Sojoys Camelot of SweetMewsic. Owned by Merrill & Sandy Babcock
& Sherry Lambeck.