Cat Catalog: Overview of Cats

Cats Catalog: Overview of Cats
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All About Cats!

Cats come in all sizes, from big lions and tigers to pet kitties cuddled on your lap. But they share special things that make them great hunters and survivors.

Sharp claws help them catch food and climb trees. Strong, bendy bodies let them pounce and leap fast. Cats use their excellent night vision, sense of smell, and good hearing to find tasty treats in jungles, sandy deserts, or snowy mountains.

They eat meat and have fast reflexes to kill prey. Pet kitties still want to play hunt, even if they mostly snack on yummy cat food you put in their bowl!

All cats sleep a lot – they take between 12 to 16 naps every day! That gives them energy for moving fast at dawn and dusk – their favorite times. You’ll see them cleaning and grooming themselves or chasing toys when they’re awake.

Even if some live in the wild and others on your couch, they move gracefully and quietly. And they all talk in special ways – meows, chirps, growls and purrs to share their moods.

One unique thing about cats is their whiskers. Those long hairs feel vibrations and help cats sneak around, even in the dark!

Long hair cat with long whiskers

In this catalog we talk about wild and tame cats. You’ll learn why cats have the tools and talents that make them such mysterious creatures we love!

All cats have flexible skeletal and muscular structures that enable great agility. They can sprint, jump, climb, twist, and pounce efficiently to catch prey. Their tails provide balance and can communicate mood in domestic cats.

Their heads contain strong jaws and long canine teeth optimized for restraining prey. They have rough tongues that can scrape meat off the bone.

All cats have soft-padded paws except for the cheetah, which has hard-callused pads for traction at high speeds. The paws have sharp retractable claws that act as traction devices and weapons.

Close up of a cat's claws

However, larger Pantherinae cats have bigger paws, stronger jaws, and greater average sizes to take down big game like buffalo or deer. The cheetah is an exception as the largest of Felinae cats. Smaller Felinae cats tend to eat more varied diets, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish.

Domestic cats retain many traits of wild felines, including hunting instincts, but they have evolved to coexist better with humans over time. Most domestic cat breeds originate from wild cats native to Africa, Europe,

Taxonomy of Cats Image
Cat Families Taxonomy Image

Taxonomy and Classification of Cats: From Kingdom to Species

  1. Kingdom: Animalia
  2. Phylum: Chordata
  3. Class: Mammalia
  4. Order: Carnivora
  5. Suborder: Feliformia
  6. Family: Felidae
  7. Subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae
  8. Genera: Various, including Felis, Panthera, and others
  9. Species: Numerous, including Felis catus (domestic cat)

Now, let’s expand on each level of classification:

  1. Kingdom: Animalia
    All cats belong to the kingdom Animalia, which includes all multicellular, eukaryotic organisms that obtain energy through ingestion.
  2. Phylum: Chordata
    Cats are chordates, characterized by the presence of a notochord, dorsal hollow nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, and a post-anal tail at some point in their development.
  3. Class: Mammalia
    As mammals, cats are warm-blooded, have hair or fur, give birth to live young (with few exceptions), and produce milk for their offspring.
  4. Order: Carnivora
    Cats are part of the order Carnivora, which includes carnivorous mammals. This order is characterized by specialized teeth and claws adapted for catching and eating other animals.
  5. Suborder: Feliformia
    Within Carnivora, cats belong to the suborder Feliformia, which includes cat-like carnivorans. This suborder also includes animals like hyenas, mongooses, and civets.
  6. Family: Felidae
    All cats, both wild and domestic, belong to the family Felidae. This family is characterized by retractable claws, forward-facing eyes, and specialized teeth for shearing meat.
  7. Subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae
    The family Felidae is divided into two main subfamilies:
  • Pantherinae: Includes big cats that can roar, such as lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards.
  • Felinae: Includes smaller cats that cannot roar, including domestic cats, wildcats, cheetahs, and many others.
  1. Genera
    There are several genera within the Felidae family. Some key examples include:
  • Panthera: Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards
  • Felis: Domestic cats, wildcats
  • Puma: Cougars
  • Acinonyx: Cheetahs
  • Lynx: Lynxes
  1. Species
    Each genus contains one or more species. For example:
  • Felis catus: Domestic cat
  • Panthera leo: Lion
  • Panthera tigris: Tiger
  • Acinonyx jubatus: Cheetah

It’s worth noting that taxonomy is an evolving field, and classifications can change as new genetic and evolutionary evidence emerges. For instance, recent genetic studies have led to debates about the classification of some cat species and whether certain populations should be considered separate species or subspecies.

The domestic cat (Felis catus) is sometimes referred to as Felis silvestris catus, considering it a subspecies of the wildcat (Felis silvestris). This reflects the close genetic relationship between domestic cats and their wild ancestors.

Within the species Felis catus, there are numerous recognized breeds, but these are not taxonomic classifications. Instead, they represent distinct populations maintained through selective breeding for specific traits.

This taxonomic structure provides a framework for understanding the evolutionary relationships between cats and other animals, as well as among different cat species. It’s a crucial tool for biodiversity studies, conservation efforts, and our broader understanding of feline evolution and ecology.

The History and Evolution of Cats: From Wild Predators to Beloved Pets

  1. Ancient Origins
    The story of cats begins deep in prehistoric times. About 42 million years ago, a common ancestor of all modern carnivores roamed the Earth. This creature, known as Miacis, was a small, weasel-like animal that lived in trees and hunted insects and small prey. Over millions of years, this ancestral species diverged into different lineages, including those that would become modern-day cats, dogs, bears, and other carnivores.

The first truly cat-like animals appeared around 25 million years ago. These early felids, such as Proailurus (meaning “first cat”), were small, forest-dwelling predators. They had retractable claws and sharp teeth, adaptations that would become hallmarks of the cat family.

  1. Felidae Family
    The family Felidae, which includes all modern cats, emerged approximately 10-15 million years ago. This family quickly diversified and spread across the world. Early felids like Pseudaelurus were the ancestors of both big cats (like lions and tigers) and small cats (including domestic cats).

As these early cats spread across continents, they adapted to various environments. This led to the evolution of diverse species, from the snow leopards of the Himalayas to the jaguars of South America. The genus Felis, which includes our domestic cats, appeared around 6-7 million years ago.

  1. Domestication
    The domestication of cats is a fascinating chapter in human history. It began around 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Near East that saw the birth of agriculture. As humans started settling and storing grain, they inadvertently attracted rodents. Wild cats, likely the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), were drawn to these early settlements to prey on the rodents.

This mutually beneficial relationship slowly developed into domestication. Unlike dogs, which were actively tamed and bred by humans, cats largely domesticated themselves. They gradually became accustomed to human presence, and humans appreciated their rodent-catching abilities. Genetic studies suggest that all domestic cats descend from as few as five African wildcat matriarchs.

  1. Ancient Egypt
    Cats hold a special place in ancient Egyptian culture. By around 2000 BCE, cats were fully integrated into Egyptian society. They were valued for protecting grain stores from rodents and for killing venomous snakes. This practical appreciation evolved into religious reverence.

The goddess Bastet, often depicted as a cat or a woman with a cat’s head, became one of the most popular deities in Egypt. Cats were mummified and buried with great ceremony, and killing a cat was a severe crime. This elevated status helped spread domestic cats throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, and Asia, often traveling aboard trade ships to control rodent populations.

  1. Middle Ages to Modern Times
    The Middle Ages saw a dramatic shift in the perception of cats in Europe. Associated with witchcraft and the devil, cats (especially black cats) faced widespread persecution. This negative view gradually changed as their value in controlling rodent populations, particularly during the Black Death, became apparent.

By the Renaissance, cats were again appreciated as pets and mousers. They became essential on long sea voyages to protect food stores from rats. The 19th century saw the beginning of cat shows and the development of distinct breeds through selective breeding. The first cat show was held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1871, marking the start of the fancy cat breed era.

  1. Modern Popularity
    The 20th century witnessed an explosion in cat popularity. As urbanization increased and living spaces became smaller, cats proved to be ideal pets for city dwellers. The development of commercial cat food, improved veterinary care, and the invention of cat litter in the 1940s made cat ownership easier and more appealing.

Cats have also become cultural icons. From Garfield to Grumpy Cat, felines have captured the public imagination. The internet age has only amplified their popularity, with cat videos and memes becoming a staple of online culture. Today, cats are the second most popular pet globally, with an estimated 600 million cats living in households worldwide.

The story of cats is a testament to their adaptability and the deep bond they’ve formed with humans. From fierce predators to Internet sensations, cats continue to evolve alongside us, securing their place in our homes and hearts.

Check out our blog posts on these subjects!

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