Cat Evolution & Domestication
Cat evolution has been going on for a long time… longer than people have been on earth. And when people finally did show up, the cat let us right on in.
Noah may have had cats on the Ark he built for the great flood, but were they the ancestor of what we know as the domestic cat of today’s world? It can be confusing to think that all there is in the world, is all there has ever been in light of so much evidence to the contrary, i.e. fossil discoveries. I think the story of Noah is meant to convey an understanding of greater meaning than one recounting the re-seeding of life after a particularly heavy rain. Scholar’s generally place the deluge sometime in the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC, or some 4 – 5 thousand years ago. That was about the time Egyptians were domesticating the first cats. Did they get on board? And how safe did the rats and mice feel? Were the cats guardians of the food stores on the ark which everyone depended on until dry land was again underfoot? And how did those Koala’s make it to the ship if they were confined to the continent of Australia? Really, the best 5000 years can do is raise a lot of questions.
The great equalizer in any debate is time. Time changes everything, including the diametric of a species. As people spread around the world, their skins changed color, eating habits maine coon for sale adapted to new environments, clashes occurred with others also in migration for prized lands that yielded favorable life supporting resources, i.e. abundant prey animals for hunter-gathers, then domesticated stock animals and food/grain plants for sustenance.
Survival is unforgiving of failure. One either survives… or doesn’t. It’s one identifying characteristic of “life” that it yearns to survive. Another survival characteristic is that individual members of a species, don’t, or rather only do so for a limited time. A life-span as we call it. Only large groups or classifications of rocks, trees and other sentient beings, including that of any species can survive for indeterminate times, if it is successful.
Fossil documentation of cat evolution is extremely incomplete. There is evidence tracing the cat to around 200 million years ago, with cat evolution beginning when they diverged from reptiles. From that point scientists have divided the cat family into two major groups. Feline cats which includes all the modern species of cat, and sabre-tooth cats, who are all extinct. The ‘Felidae Family’ or Feline cats are gathered into three Genus:
- Panthera – Lions and tigers and… panthers, or cats that roar.
- Felis – Lynx, ocelots, your Fluffy and other small cats.
- Acinonyx – or the cheetah. They’re in a group of their own because they cannot retract their claws like all other cats.
Originally, cat evolution diagrams had cats divided into two main groups: Big Cats and Small Cats. The distinction was based on the size and shape of their skulls. But, it was discovered that the division was not viable since studies eventually showed a gradual transition of skull characteristics from the smallest to the larger cats. There essentially was no separate distinction using that criteria.
Lately, DNA studies have provided insights to cat evolution as they migrated from Asia to North American via the Bering Sea Land Bridge that appeared around 9 million years ago. These panther like predators had first appeared in Asia about 2 million years before the Land Bridge was exposed by falling sea levels. Cats are considered , next to humans, the most successful of hunters. They would have followed migrating prey and easily survived the challenges of roaming vast territories as they explored new environments. (Think of kitty nosing around an unexplored bush or strange new object, either in or out of her territory) Later, several American lineages of newly evolved cats returned to Asia via the Bridge and with each migration, evolutionary forces morphed these cats into a rainbow of species ranging from lions and leopards to lynxes, ocelots and today’s domestic house cat. Where were people at this time? Well, no where to be found… yet. Anatomically modern humans evolved solely in Africa, between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, according to most experts using deductions based on mitochondrial DNA data. Obviously, cat evolution is long on history with existing in this world.
It was around 10,000 years ago as humans stopped being hunter-gathers and started to cultivate the land, that the relationship seeds between people and cats began. By then cats inhabited most parts of the world except in the Arctic, Antarctica, Australia and inhospitable tundra regions. As the first modern humans migrated from central Africa to Europe and Asia, it would have been impossible for cat and human paths not to cross. But, it was when people began to grow crops that certain species of cats and humans began to have a co-dependent relationship, creating an interesting, if not fateful, twist in cat evolution.