Cat Evolution: How 40 Species of Felines Spread on Earth [detailed History Up to 2022]


Carnivorous mammals, from which modern cats descended, inhabited the earth 40-45 million years ago. The remains of the distant ancestors of cats discovered during excavations are about 12 million years old, and animals that essentially did not differ from modern cats appeared from 3 to 5 million years ago, at the beginning of the Paleogene period. While the progenitors of other mammals were not very similar to their descendants, cats have hardly changed over millions of years of evolution.

Over the course of the millennium, several representatives of the feline family became completely extinct. It has been at least 13,000 years since the ubiquitous saber-toothed tiger disappeared from the face of the earth. There are other felines that are currently on the verge of extinction: the Asian tiger and the European cave flax. Moreover, these animals appeared on earth, possibly even earlier than the saber-toothed tiger. The Red Book also includes the Mexican hairless cat, which at the end of the nineteenth century was bred only in Mexico.

There is only one breed that has practically disappeared in our time, but at the moment its population has been restored – this is the Abyssinian, which is very reminiscent of the sacred cats of ancient Egypt, but is hardly their direct descendant. During the Second World War, the meat, so necessary for the normal nutrition of the Abyssinian cat, was worth its weight in gold. Therefore, this breed is almost completely extinct. Although the taxonomists have not yet reached unanimity on some issues, it is generally accepted that the feline family is subdivided into three main genera (the traditional zoological classification is carried out in descending order of type, class, order, family, genus, species, and variety): 1) the genus of Panther, which includes such large felines as lions, whose teeth are structured to allow them to growl; 2) genus Felis: smaller cats enter it, they can no longer growl; and 3) the genus Acionyx, represented exclusively by the cheetah. The cheetah has a number of distinctive features; for example, its relatively small canines, wide nasal openings, and claws that do not retract. As mentioned above, the cheetah occupies a whole genus in the classification of animals. The cougar also stands apart, since in terms of measurements, both in centimeters and in inches, it should be classified as a “medium” cat, but it is classified as a “small” one due to slight differences in the structure of the pharynx. Then comes the ocelot and magot, which belong to the subgenus Leopardus because they only have 36 chromosomes, not 38 like most cats (humans have 46 chromosomes). Some disagreements regarding different approaches to cat classification persist to this day. Although many members of the feline family became extinct without human help, other animals have disappeared or are on the verge of extinction solely “thanks” to man. Take, for example, the different breeds of tigers. Saber-toothed tigers were the first felines that not only managed to maintain their population for a long time but also spread in large numbers across the land. They, like many other mammals that were more adapted to the cooling of the planet’s climate than, for example, dinosaurs, appeared about 34 million years ago. The incredibly long upper teeth of the saber-toothed tiger, which prevented it from eating food, hardly contributed to the normal development of these animals, but it is interesting; that they have lived on earth much longer than modern cats or even humans.

The tiger from the island of Bali disappeared in 1937. The Java tiger and the Caspian tiger became extinct shortly thereafter. In a period of time equal to one human life, hunters, pesticides, and deforestation have reduced the population of Asian tigers by 95%. The same fate befell many species of lions. It is believed that the last South Cape flax was killed by hunters in 1865, and the barbari flax ceased to exist in 1922.

Of the above-existing representatives of the feline family, animals such as the titer and the jaguar are at particular risk, whose hunting grounds should not only be extensive but also belong to a special type (for example, a forest), which leopards do not need, which can also live in more varied conditions.

There are forty species of felines on earth today. The species that has the largest number of varieties is the domestic cat. Thanks to the direct participation of humans, the cat is now widely represented on all continents except Antarctica. Millions of years ago, felines spread across the globe, and then people themselves brought them with them to newly discovered lands, for example, to Australia.

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