Maine Coons are known as the gentle giants of the cat world. These large domestic felines are big, fluffy, and love company.
Its gentle nature, high intelligence, loyalty, loving nature, and independence have made them incredibly popular to the point where they are now the third most popular cat breed in the world.
However, we actually know very little about their origins. There are many stories and myths, but not many of them give us any actual evidence.
This problem is further compounded by the fact that the cats themselves are incredibly distinctive. Their size, long fur coat, and unique faces make them stand out amongst cat breeds.
This goes beyond the physical though, as their personality is also considered quite unique amongst cats.
As such, many people have tried filling in the gaps with their theories and one of the most prominent is that the Maine Coon is actually part raccoon, but that can’t be right, can it?
Raccoons do have long hair and a high intelligence, but it would be a physical impossibility, wouldn’t it? In this article, we seek to answer whether Maine Coons and raccoons are related and look at theories of their potential origins.
Are Maine Coons And Raccoons Related?
To answer this question and the main question quickly, Maine Coons are not part raccoons, but they are somewhat related to them.
However, this relationship is the same as that of cats, dogs, seals, and bears and is not exactly close. Cats and raccoons are mammals in the familial order of Carnivora, in the same way humans and orangutans are in the family Hominidae.
However, cats and raccoons exist on separate branches – or suborders – of the family tree, with cats being part of the Feliformia (cat-like Carnivorans) and raccoons being part of the Caniformia (dog-like Carnivorans). Their relationship is probably more distant than that of ourselves and gorillas.
So, why bring this up? Well, to prove that it would be impossible for cats and raccoons to produce offspring together.
It is very difficult to produce offspring with closely related animals who are not the same species, and often the results mean the offspring is infertile and unable to produce their own offspring.
A good example of this are mules and Savannah cats, with mules being completely sterile and Savannah cats being mostly sterile until the fifth generation.
Raccoons and the domestic cat are so far removed from each other in the family tree that a human would have more chance of creating actual offspring with a Chimpanzee than these two with each other.
Since it is impossible for a chimp human hybrid to exist, so too is it for the Maine Coon to descend from a cat-raccoon hybrid.
What Are Maine Coons Descended From?
Well, that is actually part of the problem, we just don’t know. The Maine Coon is one of the oldest breeds to exist in America, if not the oldest breed. The one thing we do know is that it first appeared in the state of Maine, it may have even originated there.
As far as we know, there were no Native American stories or records of these cats, though a lot of information was lost after the colonization of the areas in which they lived.
It is also strange from the point of view of the colonial powers that expanded into these areas, like Britain, France, and the US itself, as there is no record of these cats from them either.
There may not have been dedicated databases and equipment like today to record everything, but the fact that not one description of these cats exists before a certain point is strange.
The first mention of these beautiful animals in an actual recorded account is in the book of the cat in 1861 by F.R. Pierce, but we know from anecdotal evidence that they existed in the area long before this.
There is only one clue of their origin and the rest is a total mystery. There is credible evidence that the Maine Coon is closely related to or descended from Norwegian Forest Cats or, less likely, the Siberian Cat.
When you look at these two hardy breeds of cat side by side – the Norwegian and the Maine —, the similarities are obvious.
Both are strong, big cats with large bushy tails and long glossy coats, while both of their personalities are friendly, sociable, and intelligent.
If it wasn’t for the coloration of their coats and the fact that the Maine Coon is larger – it is the largest breed of domestic cat, after all – it would be very hard to tell them apart.
It seems highly likely that these two are related, but how did Maine Coons come to be in America? We can only speculate, but there are several theories to this that we can discuss.
The Myths Of Their Origins
There are many myths about the origins of Maine Coon cats, and we will discuss our favorites here, except for the raccoon theory, as we already disproved it earlier in the article.
The first theory to discuss is that of the ship’s cats that Maine Coons may be descended from, as it is the most grounded and realistic of them all.
Before the later half of the 20th century, long sea voyages were the most common way to travel round the world. These voyages were full of perils and were tough, arduous affairs that could last months, or even years.
As such, it was vital to have everything prepped before departing. This included cargo, personnel, maps, sailing equipment, shipping logs, water, and food.
People had learned from experience that if food was not prepared properly, then you were guaranteed a slow and agonizing death from scurvy – a disease caused by lack of vitamin C.
The problem was that no matter how well you prepared your cargo, rodents and insects could hide away and eat it.
Rats and mice became such a huge issue on ships that entire crews have been known to be wiped out by their constant raiding of the food supply.
The solution to this issue was to bring cats on board. They are agile, nimble creatures who could adapt to a rolling ship, didn’t need to eat much, and dealt with the rodents and insects effectively.
Maine was a common first anchor point for sea vessels traveling to the Americas, and many of the crew would bring their cats with them onto dry land, thus giving us the Maine Coon.
There is a myth about a man named Captain Charles Coon who had many cats and regularly brought his cats ashore in places like Maine, only for them to mate with local short hair cats, but there is little evidence for this, especially as this story is set in the 1800s, and we are fairly certain the cat existed in Maine before then.
They Are Descended From Marie Antoinette’s Cats
Many people love this theory for the romance of it, and it is indeed exciting. Before the fall of the Bourbon Dynasty in France, French royalty were known to keep several domestic breeds of cats.
The breed of cats that they kept were often of the longer hair species, including Turkish and Persian Angora cats.
Although, it is not known for certain whether Marie Antoinette kept any of these cats herself, it is certainly possible.
When the monarchy was overthrown in Paris and the royal family was confined to a prison cell, a plan was set in motion for an escape.
The intended destination was Maine in the USA, and a royalist ship captain and crew were assembled to aid in this escape.
The belongings of the royal family had already been loaded onto a ship in preparation for the escape of the royals, and it is quite possible that this included her cats. The plan never came to fruition, however, and Marie Antoinette was sent to the guillotine in 1793.
Yet, hers and her husband’s belongings were still sent to Maine to the house that had been built for them. This also possibly includes the cats.
If her cat’s bred with local cats, it is possible that they created the Maine Coon breed. This story is more likely than the cat-raccoon hybrid, but only slightly.
We don’t know if Marie Antoinette even owned cats, and the cats at the French court were Angoras, a breed that only resembles Maine Coons in their long haired coats.
They Were Brought By Vikings
This is actually our favorite theory, and it is strangely plausible considering the statement. The first Europeans to discover the New World were not actually a part of the Portuguese expedition led by the Italian, Christopher Columbus, in 1498.
The New World was actually discovered by a continuous wave of Norse settlers and explorers, who expanded first from Norway to Iceland, before Greenland was settled by Erik the Red in 985.
Erik’s son, Leif Erikson, then led an expedition to Greenland, but was blown off course and landed in a place they called Vinland, what we now know was the tip of Newfoundland, some 500 years before Columbus.
Although Leif Erikson would never return to Vinland, plenty of expeditions were made by the Vikings to this area from Greenland and there are several archeological sites that can attest to their sustained presence in the area.
Much like the Sailors in the 1800s, Viking and Norse sailors would often bring cats on board to keep the mice and rats away from their food. What kind of cats do you ask? That’s right, Norwegian Forest Cats.
These cats can survive easily in the wild and through long winters, all it would take would be a couple of them to escape and suddenly an explosive population of Norwegian Forest Cats, that over 1000 years become Maine Coons.
This theory is also a little far-fetched, but it is one of the most interesting and the one we want to be real.
However, the truth is probably somewhere in between the first and the third theory. Norwegian sailors in the 17th or 18th century probably accidentally introduced a population of Norwegian Wild Cats in Maine that bred with local cats, thus creating the Maine Coon. Fingers crossed it’s the Viking one, though.
So, in conclusion, Maine Coon cats are the largest breed of domestic cat. They are not cat-raccoon hybrids and, though they are related to raccoons, they are not closely related to raccoons.
As such, even though cats and raccoons sometimes mate – unfortunately, it has happened, just don’t think about it – it would be impossible for either species to conceive the other’s child.
The origins of Maine Coons may be mysterious, but that is a part of what makes these adorable, fluffy, puffballs so amazing and why Maine is proud to make them the official state cat.