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The Evolution of Cats

Gaynor Borade Sep 30, 2018
The cat belongs to the Felis catus family of felines. The felid is a predatory, crepuscular mammal species, that has offered valued companionship to humans. The history of the human-cat association dates back to more than 9,000 years, not far from the earliest evolved domesticated feline form.
Cats have been an integral part of human dwellings for their inherent ability to hunt snakes, vermin, and other unwanted pests. This species is known for its predatory skills and a domestic nature. 
Interestingly, beyond hunting over a thousand vermin species for food, the cat can be successfully trained to obey simple commands. They are able to manipulate simple mechanisms, vocalize, and exhibit different types of communicative body languages with great ease.
The world's most popular registered pedigree pets have facilitated a hobby among humans, called 'cat fancy'.
The evolution of the cat species known today is commonly traced down to the earliest domesticated 'cult animal', in ancient Egypt. However, recent research reveals that the lines of descent narrow down to five species of self-domesticated African Wildcats. The earliest records on the Felis silvestris lybica order date back to nearly 8000 BC, in the Orient.
The domestic cat that we are familiar with was first classified by Carolus Linnaeus as Felis catus, which appeared in his 1758 publication 'Systema Naturae'. Subsequent research revealed that domestic cats are con-specific with the wildcat species. This commonality led to the 1777 classification by Schreber, under the name 'Felis silvestris'.
Another interesting classification was by Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. In his journal 'Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre and Systema regni animalis', he classified the domesticated cat as Felis domesticus. However, the result was a mixed usage of the terms and the belief that the cat is a subspecies, F. catus, of the main F. silvestris order.
The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature or ICZN's Opinion 2027 declared the fixed classification for cats as F. silvestris in 2003. Nevertheless, the predominant reference as F. catus continues in many places.
Variants of Felis catus domesticus and Felis silvestris domesticus are commonly observed across the globe. These classifications are not valid under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
Research reveals that the house cats we know and love today are genetically linked with their wild ancestors. They are cousins of predators who indiscriminately hunted and thrived in the wild. Their ancestral commonality with the Fertile Crescent (located in the Middle East) Wild Cat is indisputable.
The Fertile Crescent Wild Cat roamed the plains of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and neighboring countries. Its relative, the Near Eastern Wildcat, a progenitor of the domestic house cat, still exists.
The domestic cat lineages are linked with those of wildcat populations that date back to more than 100,000 years of recorded history. An interesting declaration made by Stephen O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute, Maryland, is that wildcat kittens were first domesticated by farmers, to hunt down pests that threatened agricultural surplus.
O'Brien also mentions that there were, at that time, over 40 wild cat species that roamed the Middle East, flaunting distinct genetic variance. The difference of opine across the globe ends in the five established matriarchal lineages.
Another parallel theory supports the fact that wildcats simply domesticated themselves. They were largely attracted to the presence of pests like gophers and mice around fields, and the rewards offered by farmers for displaying their skill.
Today, there are more than 600 million cat breeds recognized the world over. Using domestication as a successful experiment that came naturally to man, cats have established a permanent place in modern human society.