The Evolution of House Cats

Posted on June 23, 2009  Comments (12)

Fritz the Cat Photo shows Fritz the Cat – see photos Fritz took.

Scientific American has a long and interesting article on: The Evolution of House Cats

It is by turns aloof and affectionate, serene and savage, endearing and exasperating. Despite its mercurial nature, however, the house cat is the most popular pet in the world. A third of American households have feline members, and more than 600 million cats live among humans worldwide.

Together the transport of cats to the island and the burial of the human with a cat indicate that people had a special, intentional relationship with cats nearly 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. This locale is consistent with the geographic origin we arrived at through our genetic analyses. It appears, then, that cats were being tamed just as humankind was establishing the first settlements in the part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent.

Over time, wildcats more tolerant of living in human-dominated environments began to proliferate in villages throughout the Fertile Crescent. Selection in this new niche would have been principally for tameness, but competition among cats would also have continued to influence their evolution and limit how pliant they became. Because these proto–domestic cats were undoubtedly mostly left to fend for themselves, their hunting and scavenging skills remained sharp. Even today most domesticated cats are free agents that can easily survive independently of humans, as evinced by the plethora of feral cats in cities, towns and countrysides the world over.

So are today’s cats truly domesticated? Well, yes—but perhaps only just. Although they satisfy the criterion of tolerating people, most domestic cats are feral and do not rely on people to feed them or to find them mates. And whereas other domesticates, like dogs, look quite distinct from their wild ancestors, the average domestic cat largely retains the wild body plan. It does exhibit a few morphological differences, however—namely, slightly shorter legs, a smaller brain and, as Charles Darwin noted, a longer intestine, which may have been an adaptation to scavenging kitchen scraps.

Cats are Cool 🙂

Related: Origins of the Domestic CatThe Engineer That Made Your Cat a PhotographerDNA Offers New Insight Concerning Cat EvolutionGenetic Research Suggests Cats ‘Domesticated Themselves’

12 Responses to “The Evolution of House Cats”

  1. Stanley
    June 24th, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    I was thinking about this the other day. Isn’t it kinda weird, how we keep animals in our homes?
    Maube I’m just not an animal person?

  2. Anonymous
    June 24th, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about cats being truly feral, but even the fully “domesticated” cats still have to be let outside to run, and allowed to come back. Makes ya think!

  3. Yasinta
    June 27th, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

    I think the cats are too funny to be given such tasks, lol.. They will become a serious pet then!

  4. Anonymous
    June 28th, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    Cats I think now enjoy the top rung on the evolutionary ladder! Yes, us humans strut around in clothes made of other animals and flashing clever bits of technological plastic, but at the end of a hard day’s work we go home and dolt on the true dominant species. The stay-at-home moggy has reached a level of perfect evolution that means that its every need is provided for by the mighty human. We are the pets and if I can come back in the next life and pass the time in blissful leisure like my two furballs then I will be quite content!

  5. John Marshall
    June 30th, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

    This is a good read about cats. I had read a recent article about how they felt that the distinction between house cats and other animals in the cat family like tigers was due to a gene variation. Your article takes more a nurture role so I find this interesting as well. I do believe there is a genetic component at play as cats are different from each other. For example, house cats purr which is something mountain lions or tigers cannot do.

    BTW, the picture of that cat is just like a cat I had growing up. Made the story extra interesting.

  6. mr brown
    July 1st, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    cats sleep anywhere from 13 to 16 hours per day. In other words, your friendly companion feline spends approximately 2/3 of his entire life in dreamland.

  7. Grace Weis
    July 2nd, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    I had to comment because the picture of the cat reminds me of late beloved Felix.
    He didn’t depend on me for dinner either…He always brought home his meals..YUM!

  8. Anonymous
    December 11th, 2009 @ 12:29 am

    Cats definitely are cool. I have two cats that I think may be burmese. I really enjoy reading about the genetics of cats, such as siamese, specifically their temperature sensitivity in relation to pointedness. If you come across any articles on the genetics of cats please share:)

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  10. Anonymous
    February 3rd, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

    interesting. cats are so independent. sometimes i think they are smarter than my 3 years German Shepperd.

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