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THE CAT THROUGH EVOLUTION

It should be noted that all cats - including domesticated species - are


obligate carnivores and they cannot survive without ingesting nutrients
derived from animals. CATS MUST NEVER BE FED AN EXCLUSIVELY
VEGETARIAN RATION.




Evidence
There are several ways in which the evolution of a species can be traced -
but none of the existing records are complete - even for humans. As a
result, we have to speculate about the missing "links" in the historical
evidence.

In zoological classication cats belong to the Class : Mammalia
(mammals - hair covered animals that suckle their young with breast milk),
the Order : Carnivora (they are carnivores - they eat meat) and the Family:
Felidae. Within this family there are three further subdivisions called
genera (Panthera (cats that roar), Acinonyx (the Cheetah) and Felis (all
other "small" cats)), and each genus contains individual species. A
species of cats is a group that normally breeds and produces fertile
o"spring (see section on DNA below)

Wild cats inhabit all parts of the world except the extreme Arctic and
Antarctic regions, Australia and the wastelands of the tundra where there
is no tree cover for prey.

General characteristics of cats

Cats have evolved as predatory hunting animals with great agility and
keen senses - particularly hearing, sight and smell. From only a few
weeks of age the kittens of all species of cat (including our domesticated
varieties) show instinctive behaviour typical of hunter-killers. They are
extremely alert to sounds and movements, stalk, ambush, convert rigid
stillness into rapid movements to pounce on their prey, and they
demonstrate the typical biting and clawing actions needed to bring down
and kill prey quickly.

All cats (except the lion and some feral domestic cat colonies) are solitary
animals that hunt and fend for themselves. They only come into contact
with members of the opposite sex during mating periods when scent in
female urine attracts males to her from a long distance. Cats are also very
territorial and mark out the perimeter of their "homeland" with their urine.
In urban areas our domesticated cats still exhibit these behavioural traits,
creating serious problems for male tom cats who inevitably ght with
each other as they cross each others territories in search of on-heat
females. Neutering can help to reduce the nuisance caused by calling and
ghting cats, as well as reducing the number of unwanted litters.

Cats are capable of great speed over short distances - and none is faster
than the Cheetah which is able to reach over 60 miles per hour (100km
per hour) making it the fastest land animal on Earth.

Archeological record
The earliest ancestors of cats originally evolved about 200 million years
ago from reptiles. Prehistoric remains of cats are few and far between but
the dental pattern of modern day cats is similar to that found in fossilised
creodonts - primitive sh-eating mammals which lived about 50 million
years ago, but this genetic line failed to survive and there are no direct
descendants today. At the same time another group of animals the
miacids also had cat-like cutting teeth - they were small forest-dwelling
creatures and these evolved into the carnivores of today - including some
cats.

Even though everyone has heard about the "Sabre-toothed Tiger" or
Smilodon - which had canine teeth 20cm or longer - this animal is not in
fact related to the big cats found on Earth today. The last sabre toothed
"cats" died out as recently as 30,000 years ago (based on fossil records
in Britain) and possibly only 13,000 years ago (fossil records in California).

Fossils from 12 million years ago are similar to modern small cats. By 3
million years ago there were a wide variety of cats which populated the
whole world except the Arctic, Antarctic, Australia and the inhospitable
tundra regions. However, Australia does have some indigenous cat-like
species e.g. the "marsupial cat".

Domestication
Cat skeletons have been found in very early human settlements but they
are assumed by archaeologists to have been wild cats. The earliest true
records of domestication of cats date from about 2000 years ago from
Ancient Egypt. Examination of skulls found in Egyptian cat burial grounds
identied them as mainly being of the species Felis libyca which at that
time was a wild cat that inhabited Asia and North Africa. This desert-living
cat is now thought to have been the main ancestor of the domestic cats
we have today. Migration and interbreeding with native cats resulted (in
Europe) in the emergence of a thicker set domestic cat - similar to the
European Wild Cat (Felis silvestris)

Anatomical characteristics

There are several anatomical features such as a rounded head and a
skeletal structure designed for agility which suggest that all cats
(domesticated or wild, large or small) have evolved from a common
prehistoric ancestor.

Generally, male and female cats are very similar in appearance. The
exceptions are adult male lions which develop a mane. Usually males are
slightly bigger than females of the same species.

Cats have ve toes on the front feet and four toes on the hind feet,
although occasionally individuals are born with more toes (an inherited
abnormality called polydactyly). Cats walk on their toes and have soft
pads on the toes and feet which help to reduce sound when stalking, as
well as protecting the underlying bones from concussion during running
and jumping.

Cats have evolved with eyes that protrude forwards from the head giving
them good forward and sideways vision. The retina at the back of the eye
reects light from an area called the tapetum lucidum, and it consists of a
high proportion of cells called "rods" which gives cats excellent vision in
poor light - a feature that helps them to hunt around dusk and dawn.
Although the image they see is useful, it lacks ne detail so they may miss
small objects. Cats do have di"erent cones in the retina for di"erentiating
colour - but their colour vision is very poor compared to ours.

Cats have a dental prole typical of the carnivores. They have four large
canine teeth at the front of the mouth which are used to grasp their prey,
and large molars including two carnassial teeth (one on the upper arcade
of both sides of the mouth). These are used to gnaw and slice the meat
into small pieces so that it can be swallowed.

NOTE It should be noted that all cats - including domesticated species -
are obligate carnivores and they cannot survive without ingesting
nutrients derived from animals. CATS MUST NEVER BE FED AN
EXCLUSIVELY VEGETARIAN RATION.

One genus of cat - the roaring cats (panthera), which includes the lion,
tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard and jaguar, has been
determined based upon an anatomical di"erence in the hyoid bone
apparatus. The hyoid lies at the base of the skull and connects it to the
larynx. In the genus panthera it is made partly of cartilage, which allows it
to move freely and so gives the vocal cords the ability to make roaring
sounds. In all other cats the hyoid bone is completely ossied and rigid.

All cats have retractable claws except for the Cheetah - and for this
reason it is placed in it's own genus - Acinonyx.

Cats have developed with a wide variety of coat colours and patterns. In
wild cats these have evolved as camouage. It is not surprising therefore
that the snow leopard should have a very pale, light, almost white coat -
as it inhabits regions frequently covered in snow, whereas it's counterpart
the leopard has spots to help conceal it in forests. Tigers have stripes to
conceal them in long grass, lion are tawny-brown to blend in with the
savannah, and so on. Because coat colour is a genetically inherited
feature breeders can inuence this in their breeding.



DNA - Inheritance and gene sequencing
All cats have 38 chromosomes in each cell - except for Ocelot's and
Geo"reys Cat which only have 36 chromosomes.

A species of cat is a group that normally breeds and produces fertile
o"spring. However, under articial conditions - such as captivity - it is
possible to cross-breed di"erent species and create variants e.g.
leopards have been crossed with lions to create leopons, lions and tigers
to create ligers (father a lion) and tigons (father a tiger). The o"spring are
usually sterile. An exception to this "rule" is that feral domestic cats have
successfully bred in the wild with wild cats.

The anatomical, behavioural and other
characteristics of modern-day cats can be
explained by the genetic transfer of material from
one generation to another, the principle of
"survival of the ttest" and by adaptation to the
surrounding environment. Sometimes a desirable
trait transmitted by a genetic sequence can be
linked to an undesirable trait. The most notable example of this is white
hair coat. White cats are often born deaf, and they are also predisposed
to develop hypersensitivity and in some cases cancer of the ear aps
(pinnae) of the ears when exposed to sunlight.

Laboratory sequencing of feline DNA (the feline genome) is currently
being undertaken, and as a result we shall discover more and more about
the genetic component of inheritance in these species. This will not only
help us to prevent and treat common diseases, but it will help us to piece
together the evolutionary trail leading to modern day cats.

Functional characteristics

In addition to the behavioural characteristics of cats as predators, there
are some interesting functional characteristics that are thought to reect
the cats origins as a desert-dwelling creature. One of these is the ability of
cats kidneys to concentrate urine much more than other domesticated
species e.g. dogs.

Cats also demonstrate some unique metabolic characteristics which set
them aside from other domesticated animals such as dogs. As a result
they have a specic nutritional requirement for taurine, for example, and
for preformed vitamin A and for the essential fatty acid, linolenic acid.

Pictorial artifacts and written records
Paintings and inscriptions of cats from 2000BC in Egypt suggest that they
were living with humans as domesticated animals at that time and later
the cat became an important religious symbol, even being buried in their
own cemeteries.

Naturally, humans would have selected cats with a docile nature and kept
those that responded positively to human behaviour. From North Africa
domestication of cats spread through the Middle East, India and China
but human settlements in Europe didn't have domesticated cats until the
Romans introduced them much later.

Cats were kept on ships to control the rodent population and as a result
the seafaring explorers from Europe carried and introduced domesticated
cats all over the world.