My paper is on the history, evolution, and domestication of felines. It is a fascinating topic, from the anatomy of domestic cats comparing to the anatomy of a wild cat, to the history of their evolution, to wild cats today. Not just people played a roll in cats domestication, cats also did. You will find out more about how this all played out in this report.
Domestication and changing the instincts of a species can take thousands of years. Even though some felines live with us, and are considered domestic animals, there are still similarities between Felis Catus (domestic felines), and other wild cats in the feline family. Some similarities include hunting styles, hunting for themselves and not being completely feed by humans, raising their young, and body language, which will be talked about more in later paragraphs. It is also suspected that since cats are usually only social when they are with their young, or their parents, that when they are living with us instead of them, they take us in as family and can act more kittenish around us. Just because a cat is domestic doesn’t mean the cat is a completely tame follower. How is it possible to be domestic and still have some of your old instincts? I’ll tell you.
There is some controversy about exactly when cats came to live with us, though there is some superior evidence. The Island of Cyprus, bones of a cat were found even though no cats were thought to live there. The cat was thought to have been brought there. These bones dated back to 6000 B.C.
Did you know that the African wild cat, or Egyptian cat, (scientific name Felis Silvestris Lybica), lives all over the world not just in Africa or Egypt. It has been around for at least a million years, and is one of the few wild cats whose domestic relatives look almost identical to. Felis silvestris lybica is slightly bigger than average domestic felines. Another example of a cat who looks domestic but really isn’t is Felis silvestris silvestris, or the European wild cat, who is similar in looks and size to domestic felines. Though this cat can not be mellowed. Tabbies are believed to have descended from this cat.
Originally, millions of years ago, the general cat family was called miacids, there were two smaller families of cats, Machairodontinae, and Felidae. Felidae evolved into the cats we know today, the Machairodontinae, or saber-toothed cats, became extinct. Today their are different genuses.
Domestication started in early human civilizations. Bones of cats have been found in caves with evidence of humans from before 2600 B.C. Ancient Egyptian paintings in tombs have depicted a collar on a cat, from around 2600 B.C. Cat bones, and milk dishes were found in a tomb from around 1900 B.C. Paintings have dated back to 1600 B.C. and later, which have been found showing cats interacting with humans, and humans feeding cats. However humans did not force cats into captivity, it is though that because humans started settling down in permanent shelters, around 3000 to 8000 B.C, the Stone Age, and storing grain their, mice were attracted to the houses, and cats were attracted to an easy source of prey. After a while humans realized how useful a feline companion would be. They started to rely on each other.
Egyptians believed that one of their goddesses could transform into a cat, whose name was Baset. This is where it gets a little dark. If someone killed a cat they would be punished with death. If someone took a cat out of Egypt, they would be killed, though eventually Phoenician sailors got away with it. It is believed Egyptians were the first ones to start breeding cats. Every individual family had a cat, and when the cat died they would shave their eyebrows. They had special semitaries for cats. Unfortunately when these mummies were found in the 1888 they were used for fertilizer.
In the Middle Ages in Europe though, people hated cats, and I mean really hated them. As the Felis Catus population increased, people’s thoughts of them decreased. It was partially that cats were believed to be evil and dark, and against their religion. They were associated with pagan religion, partially because other cultures had different cat gods and goddesses. They also thought cats accompanied witches, so if they found someone to be a witch (which was probably not true anyways), they would kill the “witch’s” cat also. On religious holidays people celebrate by putting cats in bags and throwing them into fires, or over towers. Or they would force cats to be together and fight with each other. Eventually mice and rats started to gain population, and with that they brought the bubonic plague. Eventually after cats all over the country were brutally murdered, people started realizing how essential cats were.
All this medieval drama lead to the stereotypes we have about cats today, such as black cats are bad luck. Sure cats can hiss and scratch, however many other animals will. Dogs will bite and growl, birds will claw, every animal has defense mechanisms. I bet if there had been no rumors about cats in Medieval days, we as a society would just regard cats as, another animal just like us. The other problem is cats are misunderstood for their body language. Which is what will be talked about next.
Cats have the same five senses we do, however some are sharper and more perceptive than ours. For example did you know that cats can smell some things through both their mouth and nose? The Jacobson’s Organ is an organ in their mouth that lets them do that.
A cat’s whiskers let them pick up miniscule air vibrations, and give them a sense of space. Whiskers are actually organs, called vibrissae.
The tapetum is a layer in a cat’s eye that acts like a mirror, and lets a cat see in partial darkness. Cats eyes are big for their head because they hold many cells in the retina is mostly composed of cells that function well in low light. Cats can notice small amounts of movement and can see colors, barely. They can pick up much more of the color shades than the actual colors.
They have a feature in their ear that allows them to be more accurate with moving in space as they are falling, this is yet again, another organ. They also easily relax while in the air, and their flexibility helps with falling. Like any animal, including us, there is never an always. Cats may not always land on their feet, but they sure are good at it. Their ears can pick up sound out of the range of vibrations that humans can hear. When a cat moves its ears, that means the cat is trying to pick up different sounds.
Cats claws have protective layers around them. Felis Catus can run upto 31 miles per hour, in short bursts. This is because they are good in the air. They stretch out, when they hit the ground again their spine functions as a spring.
Did you know that cats also purr when they are in distress? This sound originally was used when they were kittens, to signal to their mothers that all is well. They continue to use it as an expression of happiness, however it can also signal needing help.
Cats sometimes need to get out their energy, just like we do. They might run around for no apparent reason. This is why people used to think cats were possessed. Cats will play with their pray for the same reason, to get the animals energy out and have it die less painlessly. If you think this is cruel, you may want to think again. Think of all the cruelty that humans have done. Also people tend to focus on what cats are doing, again because of the stereotypes that originated in the Middle Ages, however spiders have a similar tactic with their prey. Cats also need to sleep in short bursts throughout the day to be able to hunt so accurately.
Cats feel the need, even in their own house, or on their humans property, to seek out their own territory. Though, as said before, they have made exceptions with us and humans they know to be not completely solitary, they still have a territorial and protective instinct from their ancestors in the wild. They also can hunt for themselves occasionally.
All in the feline family exhibit traits such as needing to take “catnaps”, or the general anatomy that makes them able to sense and move through the space around them, like vibrissae (whiskers), or a flexible spines, and territory, however wild and domestic have obvious changes in mellow temperament, and some anatomy. Its is truly amazing how cats, in general, have been able to keep a good amount of wild instincts, and still be able to live with humans.
Feline habitats are constantly declining because of many different factors such as global warming, and deforestation. In the Amazon Jungle deforestation is a big issue. In all parts of the world part of a cats habitat is their food source, sometimes the cats can get hunted to keep them from hunting livestock people will eventually hunt for money. Cats such as leopards are commonly hunted for another reason, because people want their pelts. Another threat is when global warming melts snow more readily, and that can pose a big threat to cats that live in cold areas, such as snow leopards, whos amount of prey is decreasing. When one factor affects one part of the food chain, the others are in danger. In other places, big droughts can also affect any species in a habitat that has had one.
In conclusion as felines evolved they have played a big part in cultural beliefs, though not all those beliefs were good, and some have stuck even today. This brings me back to thesis:
How did felines evolve into domestic cats, and did stereotypes about cats evolve with them? As any animal that is not a human changes, humans think, and even judge.
Felines have evolved into domestic cats to be smaller, but still keep some of their instincts. Humans may not be able to understand why cats do not obey them completely, or how a cats preference and personality varies from cat to cat. Maybe that is one of the reason cats can be judged so much. I have heard an account of a cat hissing at someone then the person hating cats all together. Some people even think cats are out to get them. So I hope when reading this paper you got a peek into the world of felines.
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