Here we have assembled pieces of information about all sorts of cats, large and small, wild and domesticated as well as something of the history of cats. All cats are carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Felidae and to one of three genera: Panthera, Felis, or Acinonyx. The scientific names given in this listing are up to date as of 1993. Although the name cat is generally assumed to refer to modern house cats, the name really includes all cats - lions and tigers, bobcats and house cats etc..

The modern domesticated cat belongs to the genus Felis and the species catus. Its common names are very similar in several languages: English = cat; French = chat; German = Katze; Spanish = gato; Latin = cattus; and Arabic = quttah.

What animals are in the different genera of the family Felidae?

  1. the genus Felis includes the non-roaring cats except for the cheetah;
  2. The genus Panthera includes cats that roar: lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars; and
  3. the genus Acinonyx includes only the cheetah. Cheetahs do not roar but do not fit the genus Felis because they are unusual in having claws that do not fully retract.
Modern domestic cats belong to the genus Felis and are believed to have evolved from the African wild cat (Felis silvestris libyca) although two other types of wild cats (Felis manul and Felis silvestris sylvestris) may have contributed to the development of Felis catus the domestic house-cat.

How long have cats and humans associated together?
In many parts of the world small wild cats were contemporaries of prehistoric people but humans domesticated dogs, reindeer, sheep and goats before they domesticated the cat. In the 2,600 BC tomb of Ti, there is a picture of a small cat wearing a collar which suggests that cats were in the service of man at that time. Then, from about 1600 BC paintings and effigies of cats become increasingly common especially in Egypt.

Have cats been associated with religions?
Around 2,000 BC, before the truly domesticated small cat existed, the Egyptian Goddess Bastet was depicted with a cat head. At that time and for perhaps two thousand years, the cat in Egypt was the object of an established cult and became the foremost sacred animal in the heirarchy of Egyptian animal-gods. The Greeks consecrated the cat to Artemis (Diana the huntress); and in Japan the soul of the cat is believed to act as a messenger between Buddha and the hundreds of millions of Asian Buddhists.

When were cats first domesticated?
Historians believe that small cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 1,500 years BC (about 3,500 years ago). The manner of the domestication however is uncertain. Most zoologists agree that although other animals were purposely domesticated by humans, the small cat probably domesticated itself by moving closer and closer to towns and villages attracted by food refuse and rat populations in granaries. The Egyptians encouraged this association and used cats to help preserve their harvests from the rodents.

What do cats eat?
Cats are carnivores which means that they are predators and eat the flesh of the animals they kill. Their teeth are typical of meat-eaters in that they have prominent canines and carnassial teeth (the carnassials are the fourth premolars and first molars) The canines are for seizing and killing the prey and the carnassials for tearing the flesh and crushing bone. The domesticated house cat usually does not have to rely on killing for its food but most house cats will prey on rats, mice and birds and kill them - often not eating them.

Do different types of cats have distinctive fur markings?
The markings on the coats of most wild members of the Felidae display a range of spots, stripes and splotches providing disruptive, camouflage coloration. However, adult lions living in open country generally have a rather uniform brown coloring that blends well with their surroundings. There may be variations of markings within wild species depending upon their region of origin or the season.
Camouflaged coloration is not a factor for domesticated house cats that have been bred to have markings, or even no markings, based on cat fancier preferences. These bear no relation to natural, protective colorations.

Are whiskers hairs?
Yes. All cats have specialized hairs called whiskers. There are several types of whiskers present on the heads of most cats. All the whiskers are sensitive to touch and to disturbances (slight movement) of the air. On each side of the face are long, stiff whiskers that are kept extended sideways while the cat is resting, but point more forward when the cat moves forwards. These whiskers help the cat find its way in the dark. Another set of whiskers above the eyes and a set further back on the cheek area, are all sensitive and have protective functions.

Is all cat fur the same?
No. Cat fur varies in color and in texture. Primary or guard hairs are the longest and each grows from its own single follicle in the skin. Like most mammals, cats have an undercoat of secondary or awn hairs (bristly tipped and medium in length) and down hairs (fine, crinkled and short). These grow in tufts from single follicles.
Typically, fur is longer on the underside (belly) of a cat but seasonal differences occur: the lynx for example grows longer hair over its hind legs at the beginning of winter, and sometimes grows a longer ruff of hair around the neck as do the bobcat and some tigers. The lion (but only the males) is the only cat to grow a full mane.

Can cats see in the dark?
Cat eyes are adapted for nocturnal vision and so they can find their way and hunt in the darkness of night but cannot see in absolute darkness. Cat eyes are relatively large and have a large pupil which admits more of the available light than enters the eyes of animals with small pupils. Like most carnivores, the cat eye has, behind the retina, a special layer about 15 cells thick called the tapetum lucidum (bright carpet). The tapetum behaves like a mirror and reflects light that has passed through the retinal cells and stimulates those cells again. The green glow seen in a cat eye under some light conditions is light reflected from the tapetum. A similar glow in a human eye is red.

Do cats have a good sense of smell or taste?
Smell: Their sense of smell is less well developed than in other predators. This is reflected in the small size of the olfactory area (responsible for the sense of smell) of a cat brain. A cat relies more on sight and hearing than smell for hunting.
Taste: Cats can detect acid, salt and bitter flavors quite well but have a poor sensitivity to sugars and tend to avoid sweet foods. The cat tongue has a rought surface being covered with tiny sharp papillae which point backwards. These papillae help to rasp particles of meat off bones and, as the cat grooms itself, the papillae help to remove loose hairs from the coat.

Do cats have good hearing?
Yes. Cats have an extraordinary hearing range that is well beyond that of humans. A cat can hear sounds as low as 200 Hz (and so can hear a mouse moving through grass), and as high as 100 KHz (and so can easily hear the 20-50 KHz of rodent vocal sounds).
Cats have mobile ear flaps or pinnae which help to collect sound and so improve hearing. They also help in determining the direction from which a sound is coming; but cats, like humans, do not excel in this regard.

The cat's blood circulation:
The cat heart beats at about 110 - 140 times a minute which is twice as fast as the human heart. A cat has about a half pint of blood which circulates around its body to make a complete circuit every eleven seconds. (A human adult has about seven pints of blood and it takes about seven seconds to make a complete circuit of the body.) The normal body temperature of a cat is 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Centigrade) while that of a human is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Centigrade)

Do wild cats attack people?
Many of the wild cat species have been known to attack humans but some do so more than others. Lions will certainly kill people and this was evidenced as early as 800 BC on an Assyrian carved ivory panel. There are many instances of savage lion attacks on railway workers in Africa. One possible reason for such attacks is a shortage of other food, especially when there are lion cubs to be fed. Tigers are even more aggressive and probably attack more out of fear then lack of food. Tigers usually attack people from behind and an interesting experiment started in 1986 involved the wearing of face masks on the back of the head. The results of the experiment seem to show that the tigers would follow people wearing the masks but did not often attack. One solution to the danger of lion and tiger attacks has been to breed and release a plentiful supply of of alternative food such as pigs.

Are wild cat populations threatened?
Studying wild cats can be difficult because they are generally secretive, often nocturnal, and are generally widely and thinly spread over a habitat. Some captured animals released with radio tracking devices attached to their bodies have provided information but much remains to be learned. However, there is ample evidence that hunting, climate changes and habitat destruction are the most significant threats to the survival of wild cats. These have decimated and even eliminated some species in certain parts of the world. Even the provision of national parks as preservation areas will not work if the park areas are too small. Wild cats need large areas in which live and hunt successfully. The publication Cat News of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) gives news about the staus of wild cat populations around the world.

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Subfamily Felinae (small cats)

European wild cat: Felis silvestris

This small cat is found throughout most of Europe. Remains of wild cats dating back over 2 million years have been found in Britain. The European wild cat is similar in appearance to the domestic tabby cat being greyish-brown and brown with some darker markings. The wild cat is more heavily built than the domestic cat weighing about 10-15 lb. and being about 2 ft. long (body and head).
Some taxonomists classify a similar cat found in Africa as an African wild cat (a separate species from the European) others claim that the African cat is simply a subspecies of the European wild cat.
Leopard cat: Felis bengalensis
This distinctly marked cat is found from India and Pakistan eastwards through Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillipines; and south to Indonesia and North to mainland China. It is about the same size as the domestic cat but has longer legs.
The leopard cat does not stray far from water, and is most common at low altitudes. It makes its den in caves or uses hollow trees or cavities under tree roots. The Chinese call this the money cat perhaps because its markings are reminiscent of Chinese coins.
Fishing cat: Felis viverrina
This cat is found from south-western India and Sri Lanka through the southern Himalayas into China, Sumatra and Java. It is a powerfully built small cat with quite a short tail. It has webbing between the toes of the front feet.
A fishing cat will sit on a sandbank or a rock or wade into shallow water to scoop a fish out of the water with one of its paws. It may even dive after a fish and grab it with its mouth. This cat will also eat snails and crustaceans, frogs and snakes. On land they will eat birds or small mammals.
Jungle cat: Felis chaus
This small cat is found from Egypt through Jordan and the Middle East to India, Burma and south-western China. This cat is found in jungle areas but in Egypt often lives in reed beds (and there, is called a swamp cat). The jungle cat ears are tall and rounded and are tipped with a tuft of black hair. This cat is often seen during the daytime and have a very varied diet of small mammals.
Although the ancient Egyptians are believed to have tamed these cats and trained them to hunt wildfowl, they are probably not related to the modern domestic cat.
Sand cat: Felis margarita
Found in the Sahara area and in Pakistan and RussianTurkestan, these are small, small cats with short legs, a broad face, low, well spaced ears with black tips, and pronounced whiskers. They have soft, dense, light colored fur
This cat lives in very dry areas especially where there are sand dunes. It has dense mats of fur on the soles of its feet which serve as protection from the hot sand. The sand cat digs a burrow in the sand for shelter during the day and hunts at night to feed on rodents, lizards, birds and locusts. It can survive for quite long periods without drinking because it conserves the moisture derived from its food.
Serval: Felis serval
The serval is found in several areas in Africa, mostly in the mid latitudes of the continent. These are tall cats with a small head, large ears, and short tail. The coat is yellowish-buff lighter across the belly, and with some blackish markings. The serval hunts in grasslands and other open country generally in the early morning or at dusk and feeds on rodents, birds and lizards. This cat can run fast over short distances and is capable of jumping 3m (10ft) straight off the ground into the branches of a tree. It purrs like the domestic cat and communicates with a load, high-pitched call.
Jaguarundi: Felis yagouaroundi
This New World small cat is found from southern Texas and Arizona in the US southwards to Peru and Argentina. Its German name means weasle cat and indeed it resembles a weasel or an otter with its small flattened head, broad, short, rounded ears, long (30 inches) slender body, short legs, and long tail (20 inches). Its coat may be shades of grey , chocolate, foxy red or chestnut. The jaguarandi lives in open countryside, scrublands or forests, or even swampy grassland. It is a rather lazy hunter but usually hunts during the day and feeds on other small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, fish and sometimes fruit.
Geoffroys cat: Felis geoffroyi
This is a small cat with a broad head and is found in southern South America. It is named after the French naturalist Geoffroy St Hilaire. This cat lives in open woodland and scrubland and ranges from sea level to about eleven thousand feet in the Bolivian Andes. It is known in Argentina as the gato montes (mountain cat). It is a small, spotted cat that spends much of its time in trees even sleeping in the crooks of tree branches. A good swimmer, Geoffroys cat feeds on fish as well as small birds and mammals.
Ocelot: Felis pardalis
The ocelot ranges from the southern US states of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, to Peru, Paraguay and northern Argentina. It has a distinctive and very attractive buff or clear grey shor-haired coat with a bold pattern of markings and has consequently been heavily hunted for its fur. This caused a significant drop in numbers up through the 1970s but since the species has been added to the protected status list, the numbers appear now to be increasing. A medium sizes small cat with long legs; weight up to 35 lb., body length up to 3 ft. The ocelot lives in male/female pairs and prefers countryside where there is vegetation to provide cover for its movements. It hunts deer, monkeys, rodents and reptiles mainly on the ground and typically in the early morning.
Puma: Felis concolor
The range of the puma extends along the western parts of the US and southern Florida into most of South America. The puma is known by various regional names including: cougar, panther, and mountain lion. It purrs as do most members of the genus Felis and its call is a caterwauling yell or scream rather than a roar. The puma is about 5 ft long with an additional 3 ft. tail and can weigh up to 350 lb. It has no markings on its short-haired coat which varies in color from red or brown to grey or silver. Pumas are found from sea level to about 15,000 ft. and in grasslands, forested areas, or even swamplands. They are now quite commonly seen in urban areas of North America where they forage for food.

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Subfamily Pantherina (large cats)

North American Lynx: Lynx canadensis

The North American lynx occurs in forested areas from Alaska across Canada and into Oregon and northern California. This lynx (there is a very similar but larger species which occurs in Asia and parts of Europe) weighs about 22 lb, has a long-haired coat, cheek ruffs, and large, heavily furred feet that are an advantage for hunting in snow. It has prominent whiskers, dark ear-tufts, and its coat has medium to dark markings but these and its overall color vary with the season. Its numbers are closely related to the population of its major prey, the snowshoe hare.
Bobcat: Lynx rufus
The bobcat is found throughout most of the USA and into southern Mexico. It is similar to the lynx but has shorter legs and the brown of its coat is lighter with whitish underparts. The bobcat hunts mostly at night on rabbits, rodents and birds. The territory of a single bobcat can extend over an area of as much as 65 square miles. Because the bobcat is relatively small it is vulnerable to attack by other cats including jaguars or pumas.
Leopard: Panthera pardus
The leopard is found throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara and across Asia Minor and the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, Siberia, Java and Sri Lanka. It has very distinct dark markings on its coat which varies in base color from yellow through shades of brown. With a body length of about 4.5 ft and a 3 ft tail, the leopard might weigh up to 150 lb. Its coat has a base color of tawny-yellow with black rosette spots. The leopard has a harsh coughing roar, swims and leaps well, and is an opportunistic hunter catching and eating small mammals, including monkeys, giraffe calves and rodents, and even insects.
Tiger: Panthera tigris
Tigers are found throughout southern Asia including India, Bangladesh and Bhutan; also westward to Iran and eastward through what used to be the USSR and into China. The tiger is a very large cat weighing up to about 600 lb. Its distinct, darkly striped markings extend down the sides of the body over a coat whose base color varies from pale yellow to red ochre. The voice is a short roar and a growl. Tigers do not like heat and seek shade in which to rest or will lie in water. They are rarely found far from water and they need cover in which they can hide in order to ambush their prey which are usually large herbivores. Indian tigers are short-haired. The Siberian tiger which is the largest is the palest in color, has a thick shaggy coat and is now endangered.
Lion: Panthera leo
The lion occurs across Africa south of the Sahara, and a small number live in a sanctuary in the west of India. This race of cats has decreased dramatically in numbers over the past hundred years. The lion may have a head and body length of up to 6 ft, a tail of about 3 ft. and shoulder height of 3.5 ft. The lion is the only member of its family with a prominent mane (but only the male grows a mane). Lions inhabit fairly open countrysides in groups (of 10 to 20 individuals) called prides. The females of a pride do most of the hunting.
Cheetah: Acinonyx jubatus
The cheetah, found in southern Asia and in Africa south of the Sahara, has long legs and blunt, non-retractile claws. Its total length is about 7.5 ft and it is about 2.5 ft high at the shoulder. Its short-haired coat is yellow with small close black spots. The cheetah can run at 45 to 70 mph for short distances. It purrs and scratches tree bark like the domestic cat, moves about by day in pairs or family group and feeds on small mammals and birds. In India, cheetahs were for centuries tamed and bred and used for hunting.
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What references were used for this listing?

Wild Cats of the World by David Alderton with photographs by Bruce Tanner. Published in 1993 by Facts On File Inc., New York, NY.

University Dictionary of Mammals of the World by Maurice Burton. Published in 1968 by Thomas Crowell Company, New York, NY.

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