Feline reproduction evolved in harsh desert environments where, despite being predators themselves, small cats tended to become the prey of larger animals. Being able to produce many offspring starting at a very young parental age was necessary in order for the survival of the species. Needless to say, the modern human-populated environs many cats today call home are a far cry from those their ancestors lived in. Which is one reason there are so many feral cats.
So, as I've written before, in the absence of any evidence that cats are banding together to start their own family-planning clinics. it falls to us -- the humans who share communities with them -- to help them out in this department. Mind you, I wish there was some way to do it that did not involve surgery, but the way things are now, the consequences for cats of not being spayed or neutered are frankly tragic. I won't go into any graphic descriptions here, as I'm sure most readers already know what I am talking about, but suffice to say that I would be totally fine with calling a moratorium on "breeding" cats until all the existing ones get homes.
But I digress. The title of this post refers to a situation that I've seen happen -- or almost happen -- more than once in the local colony. Right now there's a beautiful, TINY tabby cat named Bella (Matt named her, and no, he was not making a 'Twilight' reference!) who currently looks like she's managed to swallow a whole cantaloupe. Unfortunately I have no pictures of her yet but I will try and get one. According to Matt's mom, Bella has been hanging around the house a lot lately (very common when female cats are 'nesting' -- even feral ones will tend to become much braver around humans if they see putting up with us as a sensible tradeoff for the safety of their babies).
I don't know how old she is, but probably under a year -- I'd guess seven months or thereabouts. She's one of the little females that managed to evade the last round of trapping, and who then seemed to disappear for a while, only to show up quite thoroughly gravid. Still, her overall body size (aside from her belly) looks like that of about a typical four month old kitten, probably because this is not even her first litter. She's had at least one prior to this, though Matt's mom found the resultant kittens after they were born and they appeared to have either been stillborn or just too small to have managed to live a day.
But in any event, while I know some cats are just genetically small, I suspect that Bella's size is largely due to growth attenuation caused by early pregnancy and consequent nutrient deprivation. I have no idea if this impending batch of kittens will be born viable but either way, I plan on making sure it is her last litter...that way she might at least get to finish growing up herself. All I can think of when I see her is how there but for the grace of chance goes Cora -- who herself first went into heat at a mere 4 months of age!