Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ancestry of the Modern Domestic Cat

The origins of the modern domestic feline has been hotly debated throughout the last century or so. While there is no firm answer to the question of the ancestry of the cat, there are many conclusions that may be reached with a little research and some creative thinking.

Who is the Ancestor of the Domestic Cat?

It is most likely that the African wild cat, which has the scientific name of Felis silvestris libyca, is the ancestor of the modern domestic cat. The African wild cat is yellow in color with faint stripes, and is only slightly larger than the modern-day cat. This species is found mostly in the deserts of Africa, Syria, Arabia, and some parts of India.

There are many reasons to conclude that the African wild cat is the ancestor of the modern feline, including both the color and size of the wild cat. However, one of the most compelling is that during the time when domestication of cats most likely occurred, the African wild cat was living in close proximity to humans. In fact, the African wild cat was living closer to humans than any other feline species, as far as can be determined.

In addition to that, the modern cat does have a hearing apparatus that indicates that it may have been developed in open spaces, such as the desert and other arid climates. Behaviorally, the African wild cat is very docile and easily tamed, much more so than other cats of its size. All of these, and several others, are compelling reasons to conclude that the African wild cat is indeed the ancestor of the modern domestic feline.

Other Possible Ancestors of the Domestic Cat

It is also possible that Pallas's Cat, whose scientific name is Felis manul, played a part in the development of the modern feline. This cat is believed by some to be the longhaired cat's distant ancestor, due to its own long hair. This breed is native to the steppes of northern and central Asia.

Perhaps the European wild cat, Felis silvestris silvestris, who was never actually domesticated, bred with domesticated cats in the fourth century. This would explain the darker tabby markings than those produced by descendants of the African wild cat. It is important to note that the ancestors of the modern-day cat were ticked, mackered, or spotted tabbies. The classic tabby markings, also called blotched, that are seen today are not found in any other member of the cat family. It appears that classic tabby marking are a gene mutation in the domestic cat, and not passed down from any previous ancestor.

Whatever the origins of the cat, it is clear that there is likely more than one ancestor. Our modern domestic cat is probably a mix of several feline species from across the globe. While most research suggests that the African wild cat is the most likely ancestor, it is impossible to rule out the influence of other breeds on the modern-day cat.

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