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Cat Evolution

The Felidae family consists of 6 genera and 38 species.

The main group being Felinae, which includes the puma, ocelot, serval, and many species of smaller wild cats. The other main genera are lynx, which includes the bobcat, clouded leopard, marbled cat, and panthera, which has five species. The domestic cat was named Felis catus by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, and the Wildcat Felis silvestris in 1775.

The ancestors of the cat began with the Creodonts around 50 million years ago. Early Miacoidea, a form of felidae, evolved into the caniforms (dogs, bears, raccoons, and weasels) and the feliforms (cats, hyaenas, and mongooses). The first true cat to arise from Viverravidae was Proailurus around 30 million years ago. Pseudaelurus emerged in North America and Europe around 20 million years ago, and this is the cat from which all extinct and living cats of the family felidae are believed to have arisen.

About nine million years ago, two million years after the cat family first appeared in Asia, these carnivorous predators entered North America by crossing the Beringia land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska. With each migration, evolution changed these forefathers of all cats into a variety of species, from ocelots and lynxes to leopards, lions, and the lineage that eventually led to the domestic cat. DNA analyses of the 37 living species performed by Warren E. Johnson and Stephen J. O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute and colleagues in 1997 provided a complete family tree that assigned every cat species to one of the eight lineages.

The research team was able to reconstruct a series of at least 10 intercontinental migrations by which cats colonized the world. For example, the cheetah, now found in Africa, belongs to a lineage that originated in North America and approximately three million years ago migrated back across the Bering land bridge to Asia and then Africa. Sea levels were low from 11 million to 6 million years ago, enabling the first modern cats to spread from Asia west into Africa, creating the caracal lineage, and east into North America, generating the ocelot, lynx, and puma lineages. The leopard lineage appeared around 6.5 million years ago in Asia.

It was not until 4000BC to 5000BC that there is much evidence of true domestication. Humans gained rodent-catchers while cats gained shelter and supplemented their diet. Cats are often in company with humans, consuming leftovers and providing food that may otherwise attract vermin or disease.


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