Showing posts with label taxonomy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taxonomy. Show all posts

Saturday 16 April 2022

What does Felis catus mean?

What does Felis catus mean? It's the scientific name for the domestic cat.

Felis is a Latin word derived from an older Latin word "felix" which in English means "happy". However, it means 'cat' in Latin while catus means intelligent, sly or cunning. It seems that felis is interchangeable with feles. Both mean 'cat' in Latin.

Skulls of a wildcat (top left), a housecat (top right), and a hybrid between the two. (bottom center)
Skulls of a wildcat (top left), a housecat (top right), and a hybrid between the two. (bottom-center)

The taxonomic classification of the domestic cat until 2017 was: Felis silvestris catus as in 2007, it was considered a subspecies of the European wildcat (F. silvestris). The word "silvestris" is Latin for "wooded" or "wild".

Domestic cat doing what they do best
Domestic cat doing what they do best. Photo: Pixabay.

However, following results of phylogenetic research in 2017, the IUCN Cat Classification Taskforce followed the recommendation of the ICZN in regarding the domestic cat as a distinct species, and the scientific name Felis catus adopted. As at 2022, this is the correct scientific name of the domestic cat.

The process of classification is called taxonomy. It remains in flux to a certain extent. DNA testing changed things considerably whereas in the past the species were classified by their appearance, a far less precise method.

Saturday 8 May 2021

10 million years ago the largest cat alive was a 600 pound sabre-toothed cat species

Scientists have identified a giant new sabre-toothed cat species which they believe was present on the planet in North America between 5 and 9 million years ago. It had an estimated body mass of 604 lbs (274 kgs) but it could have been larger. The long bone of the arm (humorus) was 1.4 times longer than that of the modern day lion.

This is a sabre-toothed cat but not the one mentioned. Photo: Getty.

They decided that this super-sized cat species attacked rhinoceroses which were abundant in North America at that time. They would have also preyed upon camels and sloths both of which would have been much larger than today's species. As yet, the scientists do not know how this species of cat fits in with the others in terms of evolution and taxonomy.

They said that it was known there were giant sabre-toothed cats in Europe, Asia and Africa and now North America have their own. They used digital images and specialised software to find similarities from the relics of other cat species. They say that they discovered many specimens of this big cat in museums in western North America. Comment: perhaps they had not realised the significance of them until now. They used these other specimens as a basis for their analysis which helped them to identify this new felid.

Associated: Sabre-toothed cats were endurance hunters in complete contrast to today's stalkers and dashers.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

The cat: humankind's most interesting friend

The dog is often referred to as "man's best friend" so perhaps it is fair to say that the domestic cat is "humankind's most interesting friend". We have to drop the word "man" nowadays because of equality policies, rules and in all fairness to be honest. It's about time the word was dropped. In 2003 Linda P Case said that the cat had surpassed the dog in total numbers as a household pet in the United States.

Ginger tabby domestic cat
The domestic cat. Photo: in public domain.

I'm not sure that we know that for certain. I've always considered the number of cats and dogs to be very similar in America and indeed in the UK and other developed countries. In less well developed countries the dog surpasses the cat because the dog is utilitarian i.e. working animals.

In the West it is also more common for people to share their lives and their homes with two or more cats at the same time. And it is known now very clearly that cats provide a range of benefits to their human carers, the most important of which are emotional and psychological. Domestic cats are perhaps more important than people realise in society today.

The domestic cat is probably a distinct species today. Some people refer to the domestic cat is a subspecies but I would call the household cat a species in the same bracket as the African wildcat, the Chinese desert cat, the European wildcat, the jungle cat, the sand cat and the black-footed cat. They are described as the "domestic cat lineage" in terms of the taxonomy of the cat family by two distinguished authors (the Sunquists).

The cat, although similar in terms of status with the domestic dog, has an entirely different relationship with their human caretakers and co-specifics within the human society. Doctor Bradshaw says that the cat is barely domesticated which means that they have retained to a large extent their independence, certainly of mind and their ability to hunt effectively. So although they develop enduring bonds with humans they have a necessity to express these innate desires.

Perhaps in another 1000 or 2000 years of domestication they will have lost this mentality and at that time they will behave more like a domestic dog. Domestic cats are somewhat of an anomaly in that they are beloved members of the family as well as being feral in far too great a number. This is only due to human carelessness. It is a great shame that humankind has been so careless in the domestication of the cat.

This was never envisaged at the beginning of domestication of the North African wildcat about 10,000 years ago. It wasn't part of the deal. And feral cats are the cause of so much argument among people as to how to deal with them and invariably there is a large section of society who want deal with them in an inhumane way. I am referring to the politicians and administrators of the continent of Australia as a sharp example.

The cat is a member of the order, Carnivora. This includes a diverse group of animals all of which are predators. They are named because of their carnassial teeth. These are at the back of the jaw where the human molars are. They have a shearing action a bit like scissors to tear flesh from the bodies of the animal that they've killed.

Cats evolved during the Eocene epoque. This is about 54 million years ago. Many of these animals were tree dwellers. They had long slender bodies and short legs with a long tail.

About 30 million years ago the miacids split into two groups: the viverines and the miacines. The former are now known to be the oldest ancestor of the domestic cat whereas the latter are the ancestors of the dog, bear, raccoon and weasel. The viverines branched into two primary lines. One of these lines produced several very large prehistoric cats including the sabertooth tiger. The other line included a small cat, Dinictus, which later evolved into several distinct cat species. The evidence suggests that Dinictus is the main ancestor of all cat species alive on the planet today including our beloved domestic cat.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Are domestic cats the same species?

The answer is YES. In fact, all domestic cats including feral, stray, household and purebred cats are all a subspecies of the wildcat: Felis silvestris. The domestic cat is Felis silvestris catus. There must some dispute as to whether the domestic is, in fact, a subspecies of the wildcat as it was domesticated 9,500 years ago. Perhaps the domestic cat should be a separate species of cat rather than a subspecies of the wildcat? One day it might be as the classification of the species is for ever evolving as is the domestic cat. However at 2011, the domestic cat is a cat's whiskers away in terms of behaviour from the African wild cat its wild ancestor.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Taxonomy of Domestic Cats

The domestic cat is classified as Felis silvestris catus by the authors of Wild Cats of the World, Mel and Fiona Sunquist. You might see different version of its taxonomic classification because taxonomy of the wildcats has been a bit fraught with argument and difficulty. In fact the current position is that there are five subspecies of wildcat and the domestic cat is not one of them. The five are the African wildcat, Southern African wildcat, European wildcat, Asiatic wildcat and Chinese desert cat. The domestic cat is a domesticated African wildcat (also called a Near Eastern wildcat). But it happened 9,500 years ago it is thought. The behavior and appearance of the domestic cat is now different to the wildcat although there are great similarities.

The full classification is:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: Felis silvestris
Subspecies: Felis silvestris catus

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Are domestic cats related to lions?

The domestic cat is a domesticated African and/or Eurasian wildcat. Domestication first took place from 5,000 to 9,500 years ago. There are differing views on that. The latter figure is probably correct. The wild cats are not directly related to the lion.

The scientific classification of the domestic cat is Felis silvestris catus. The classification of the lion is Panthera leo. Family: Felidae, Genus: Panthera, Species: P. leo. The classification of the domestic cat is: Family: Felidae, Genus: Felis, Species: F. catus. You can see the difference. The two are both of the same Order: Carnivora.

The domestic cat is not therefore directly related to lions. But if we go back in time sufficiently all cats are connected and therefore related.

All carnivores evolved from an extinct order of mammals called creodonts. It is believed that creodonts evolved into the order of carnivora.

Therefore the domestic cat is a distant relation of the lion. All cats behave in a similar manner including the lion and domestic cat. And all cats are carnivores - obligate carnivores.

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