The Maine Coon is one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, known for its intelligence and playfulness as well as its distinctive physical appearance. The breed is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America and originated from New England, making it America's first indigenous show cat. The Maine Coon Cat is known as "the gentle giant."
In the 17th and 18th centuries, domestic cats brought over from Europe faced very severe winters in New England, where only the strongest and most adaptable cats survived. Through natural selection (as opposed to selective breeding), the Maine Coon developed into a large, rugged cat with a water-resistant, thick coat and a hardy constitution.
The origin of the breed (and its name) has several, often fantastic, stories surrounding it. One comes from a legend that a domestic cat released in the wilds of Maine interbred with a raccoon, resulting in offspring with the Maine Coon's characteristics. Though biologically impossible, this myth, bolstered by the bushy tail and the most common coloring (a raccoon-like brown tabby) could have led to the adoption of the name "Maine Coon." Another story is that the cat was named after a ship's captain named Coon who was responsible for the cat reaching Maine shores, or that the breed sprang from the six pet cats that Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution.
However, most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs, perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings. Maine Coons are similar in appearance to both the Norwegian Forest Cat and to the Siberian. This may be attributed to convergent evolution — the shaping of unrelated species by similar environments, selecting for similar characteristics, resulting in similar animals. DNA evidence shows that the cats are descended from the Norwegian Forest Cat and an extinct domestic breed.
An average-sized adult female of mixed breed (left) and a brown mackerel tabby-colored adult male (right).
Maine Coons are very large and energetic cats, sometimes weighing up to around 11-12 kilograms (25 pounds); the average weight is 6 to 9 kilograms (13-20 pounds) for adult males and less (7-11 pounds) for females. Male Maine Coons may grow to a length in excess of 1 meter (40 inches); the longest cat on record is a Maine Coon 121cm (49 inches) in length. Growth to full size often takes longer than for most cats, with Maine Coons usually reaching full size at age four or five.
The most common color/pattern in the breed is brown with tabby markings. Maine Coons are recognized in all colors, including tortoiseshell, except for chocolate, lavender, ticked tabby, and the point-restricted ("Siamese") pattern. Eye color also varies widely. All patterns may have green, green-gold, or gold. Blue eyes, or one blue eye with one gold eye, are possible in white coat cats. They share similar facial markings, for example, a distinct "M" shape on the forehead.
Maine Coons have medium-long, dense fur, with longer hair, or a ruff, on their chests similar to the mane of a lion (which is why the breed is sometimes humorously called the "Mane Coon"). Their fur consists of two layers - an undercoat and an additional layer of longer guard hairs, which gives the breed their key physical feature. The fur is generally very soft. Maine Coons have long hair on the backs of their legs (called pantaloons or britches) and between their toes which helps to keep warm in the cold. They also have bushy plumed tails and broad, angular heads, squared-off muzzles and wide-set ears topped with tufts of fur. Most Maine Coons keep their fur in good order without the need for additional human grooming, but due to the length and quantity of hair, most will also benefit from a simple brushing once a week. While the Coon may be polydactyl, having one or more extra toes on their paws, this trait is generally bred out.
Maine Coons have large ears, which can be tipped at the end with fur. This is a common trait of a Maine Coon, giving them their Lynx-like appearance.