If I Fits, I Sits: How Felines Have Found A Place In Modernity

We all know cats are the weirdos of the animal kingdom. But how exactly did this happen, and were they any different before us humans got our nasty paws on them?

Well, let’s look at cats before domestication. This is actually fairly easy, as cats can still be considered not entirely domesticated. And seeing as today’s wildcats remain virtually unchanged since their initial spread and development (2), we really only need to compare modern wildcats to modern house cats. Here are a few differences between the two:

– Wildcats are entirely carnivores, while domestic cats are adopting more omnivorous diets. (1)

– House cats have developed a wide spectrum of coats and colors, while wildcats remain fairly bland. (1)

– Cats have become social animals under domestication, while remaining solitary in the wild. (1)

– House cats, like all other domesticates, have developed an extreme tolerance for people. (1)

So all in all, felines haven’t really changed that much.(3) But there has been a (semi) clear change in the genome from domestication – so how did this happen? What use does the cat provide to society?

To be blunt – none. (1) (2) Cats entered into serious contact with humanity some thousands of years ago in the fertile crescent, most likely serving as mousers in the newfound grain storages throughout the region. (2) However, cats don’t exactly follow orders, and their usefulness for any sort of socially-beneficial task has been called into question. (1) (2) Furthermore, while the adaptions we’ve previously discussed didn’t develop particularly recently, cats may be considered not even fully domesticated, and such effects of domestication have yet to be fully realized.

The cat is barely domesticated, and natural, rather than artificial selection has determined most of its breeding, even in domestic habitats. (3) The cat has only just started to evolve and change through artificial selection, (3) and we may look to basic examples and new breeds like the Bengal and Caracat to see where its evolution might be headed. (3) The cat has only changed slightly since its first contact with humans, and we have only just begun to see how far that change will go.

 

(1) Carlos A. Driscoll, David W. Macdonald, and Stephen J. O’Brien
“From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication”
PNAS 2009 106: 9971-9978.

(2) Stephen J. O’Brien, Warren E. Johnson “The Evolution Of Cats.” Scientific American 297.1 (2007): 68-75. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 5 May 2013.

(3) Carlos A. , Discroll, Clutton-Brock Juliet, Kitchener Andrew C., and O’Brien Stephen J.              The Taming of the Cat.                                                                                                           Scientific American . 06 2009: 68- 74. Print.

 

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