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andrew's avatar

What did cats evolve from?

Asked by andrew (16159points) December 3rd, 2006
I saw a great show on Nova about dogs and how amazing it was that there are so many different types, especially considering they all have a common wolf ancestor. So what did cats evolve from? Bobcats?
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25 Answers

colin's avatar
i don't know the answer, but i have a related question: what are foxes related to?
andrew's avatar
Foxes are canines
hossman's avatar
Clearly, you are not a cat person. Cats did not evolve from anything. Cats came into existence fully evolved into the superior creatures they are, and no further evolution is necessary. However, finding it beneficial to have a subservient species to feed, pet and worship them, they found Earth and came here, allowing homo sapiens to think cats were pets. To provide a cover for their manipulative activities, they also subtly encouraged Man to domesticate Dog, so that Dog could be blamed for various inconvenient messes, etc.
nomtastic's avatar
contrary to the misguided beliefs of hossman, i am quite sure that cats did hatch from an alien pod, but from an evil race of aliens hoping to make our lives less happy.
geodork's avatar
I have heard that cats have some distant relationship with ursus, or the bear.
maggiesmom1's avatar
I don't think cats evolved from anything. They're just cats. They might be related to other animals, but they're their own, unique species.
darwinsbulldog's avatar
Your house cat (Felis catus) is generally recognized to be most closely related to the wild cat (Felis silvestris). That means that these two species evolved from an older cat-like species that shared some characteristics with both of these living animals. To take it a few steps back, your cat, the wild cat, the lynx (Lynx rufus), and the tiger (Panthera tigris) are cousins. Garfield didn%u2019t come from a tiger, they just share a common ancestor. This is (sort of) like you and your siblings. You didn%u2019t come from your sister- you do share a common ancestor. Taking another step back, that group including your cat and Shir Khan is related to the palm civet (Paradoxurus) and the mongoose (including the genera Galida, Mungotictis, and Herpestes). Colin is on the right track. Take the next step back and Fluffy, Rikki Tikki Tavi, and Leo are in fact cousins of the foxes (Vulpes), the wolves and dogs (Canis), and even the bears (Ursus), sea lions (including genus Zalophus), and those raccoons that knock over your garbage cans (Procyon lotor). People disagree on how long ago these species split off from their common ancestors, and the relationships of certain groups are debated, but lots of people agree that these are the broad trends. For a more detailed and technical look, see Flynn et al. (2005) in volume 54, issue 2 of Systematic Biology. You could also pick up a basic text book on mammology. For quick info on these animals and a zillion others (including photos), check out the Animal Diversity Web, a project of the University of Michigan (
andrew's avatar
Great, answer, darwins. I guess the main thing I'm wondering is this:
andrew's avatar
If domestic dogs evolved from an animal very similar to a wolf -- whatever species of canine was around when dogs became domesticated, what kind of cat was it that domestic cats evolved from? Something like a bobcat or something like a tiger?
andrew's avatar
Especially considering that cats were domesticated after dogs.
darwinsbulldog's avatar
Ah, I see the question. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group from 1996 figures that domesticated cats are the descendants of the african wild cat (Felix silvestris lybica). African wild cats live in a wide range of habitats and look a whole lot like domesticated cats. By the way, I wanted to mention that the technical informantion in my first answer and in this one came from looking around on the Animal Diversity Web. It really is a handy site because they've got lots of neat factoids (e.g., siberian tigers can eat 110lbs of meat in a single sitting) but also the references if you want to read the heavy stuff.
auntpeggyo's avatar
All members of the cat family evolved from a common ancestor-miacis. It was a tenacious little mammal with short legs and a long slender body. It was like a weasel in looks and character. The miacis is the common ancestor of several groups of mammals, such as the bear, the dog, the hyena, the mongoose, the raccoon, the civet, and all members of the cat family. So actually dogs and cats evolved from the same common ancient mammal.
andrew's avatar

A new article in the NYTimes today (June 29) cited a new paper on the evolution of cats... apparently all cats have been linked to a group of at least 5 females in the mediterranean/saudi-arabia region. Go figure!

rowenaz's avatar

I also read that the first domesticated cats occurred in Egypt, as guardians of the food storage areas, thus creating a symbiotic relationship between humans and cats - and that these were small wild cats as described by auntpeggyo. My daughter (she's 7) says they are the devil's minions - which is why they are so smart and cunning and eventually enslave you to force you to worship them! hahaha! Instead of miacis, I read that cats evolved from Miacides - is this the same? I don't know.

andrew's avatar

Actually, the NYTimes discredited the notion that cats were domesticated in Egypt... apparently the site they found in the middle east predated Egyptian civilization by a significant amount.I'm sure of the specific species, though.

fred's avatar

There's an article in Science this week about housecat evolution.

Science 6 January 2006:
Vol. 311. no. 5757, p. 12
DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.12g

This Week in Science
Unraveling the relatively recent speciation events that led to the modern cat family, which includes lions, tigers, clouded leopards, and domestic cats, has been hampered by an incomplete fossil record and a lack of distinguishing skeletal features. Johnson et al. (p. 73) analyze an extensive array of X-chromosome, Y-chromosome, and mitochondrial DNA sequences sampled from all 37 extant cat species to produce a phylogenetic tree that resolves the eight major lineages of cats. Modern cats appear to have originated in Asia 10 million years ago and undertook a series of 10 intercontinental migrations that correlate with major fluctuations in sea level.

Zaku's avatar

There is a wild cat called an African Wild Cat(also see pictures here) which can be tamed (with difficulty) but seems very close to “housecat once or twice removed.” I also heard some got loose in a neighborhood of Seattle last year. Ah, yep, here’s an article about the loose wild cats .

Zaku's avatar

Mmm, but apparently those in Seattle weren’t African Wild Cats (Felis lybica), but Serval cats (Leptailurus serval).

Zaku's avatar

Oh, and a picture of a Serval that was loose in Seattle, now at a sanctuary, is here, where their donation wish list amusingly starts with:


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get2knowacat's avatar

I think that cats are the best thing that ever happened to this world. It still seems no one can truly explain the cats. look up the alien race the lion people. it may explain a few things that may or may not make sense to you. heres another one for you to watch its called 82 different alien races. im sure most of you can agree if you watch thi that you find similar circumstances which you can relate to. with that being said. if you have an open mind anything is possible and probably is. somewhere in this great big universe. but animals are all our friends without them we wouldnt be here. we need to teach and learn to protect and save all creatures before its much to late. help all animals. no matter what it is. dont believe everything you here about them see it for your self. thank you. i love my 10 cats.

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