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The Maine Coon is one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, known for its high 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, specifically native to the state of Maine, (in fact, the Maine Coon is the official Maine State Cat), 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 tale comes from a story 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 false story, 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. This story is told in "The Legend of Rosalind of Squam Island".
Nevertheless, 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, however this may be attributed to convergent evolution — the shaping of unrelated species by similar environments, selecting for similar characteristics, resulting in similar animals.