General Information

Painting of a Egyptian cat.

From Wildcat to House Cat

The story of the cat’s domestication is one of mutual appreciation, not servitude: early farming communities benefited from cats’ rodent-catching skills, while cats won themselves protection and shelter without losing their independence. Our relationship with cats reaches back thousands of years, although compared to the domestication of other animals, that of the cat was a …

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Paiting of a European cave lion (Panthera spelaea).

Cave Lions

The European cave lion (Panthera spelaea) was probably the largest cat that ever lived. Twenty-five percent larger than modern lions, this formidable hunter stood over 4 ft (1.25 m) at the shoulder. It was one of the most common predators of its time, using its relatively long legs to run down horses, deer, and other …

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Painting of four different big cats.

Cat Family Branching Out

Among carnivores, the cat family Felidae are the most accomplished killers and are highly specialized anatomically for this purpose. Some species are capable of killing prey larger than themselves. The big cats, or pantherine branch—large, impressive, fast, and ferocious—appeared at least 10.8 million years ago. Later branches gave rise first to the bay cat group …

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Painting of a saber-toothed tiger.

Saber-toothed Cats

Since the time of the primitive cat-ancestor Cimolestes in the late Cretaceous, saber-toothed carnivores have arisen on three occasions in three different carnivore groups. The earliest were the creodonts, followed by the nimravids, and finally the saber-toothed cats, including Smilodon. None of these are considered to be directly ancestral to the cats living today. Saber-toothed …

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Skelet of a Proailurus feline.

The First Real Cats

One of the earliest ancestors of our modern cats is considered to be a meat-eating mammal named Proailurus (meaning “before cats”), which appeared in what is now Eurasia during the Oligocene epoch 34–23 million years ago. Little is known about Proailurus, but fossil remains show that it was not much larger than a domestic cat …

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Painting of a pseudailurus.

Cat’s Early Ancestors

The miacids were mammals that lived during the Eocene epoch between 55.8 and 33.9 million years ago. Some were small, weasel-like, predominantly tree-dwelling creatures, while others were more cat – or doglike and spent more time on the ground. The miacids evolved into the first “true” carnivores, which appeared about 48 million years ago and …

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Painting of a smilodon walking on grass.

What is a Cat?

The ancestors of modern cats were much more diverse than today’s felines. Big cats were the first to form a distinct group. Smaller cat groups branched out later and at surprising speed. The domestic cat group is the latest addition to the family tree. The ancestor of the carnivores, or meat-eating mammals, which include the …

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Picture with the felidae family.

The World of Cats

Puma – Puma concolor The puma is one of three cat species in the puma lineage, the other two being the jaguarundi from South America and the cheetah from Africa and Asia. It is able to survive in remarkably diverse environmental conditions, being found over a wide geographical area and at elevations up to 10,000ft …

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