Information

How did the felines get to America?


I don't know if the felines got originated on America or on Africa, but I do know there are species of cat in America and Africa that belong to the same family and genus (Felidae & Panthera).

How did the evolution of these animals beat the vastness of the ocean? The same way as Homo sapiens? Or did they coexisted before Pangea split?


Short answer
It is believed that low water levels occurring several times during the last ten million years facilitated migration and divergent evolution of the felids. The North-American ocelot, lynx, puma, leopard cat, and domestic cat are believed to have evolved from a common ancestor that crossed the Bering land bridge between 5 to 9 million years ago from Eurasia. Note that Pangea broke apart 175 million years ago, way before the Age of Mammals even started, 65 million years ago.

Background
It is believed that modern felids arose in Asia with the divergence of the genus Panthera 10.8 million years ago (Mya) and the bay cat lineage 9.4 Mya. These dates correspond to the low sea levels that occurred during the late Miocene (Fig. 1). Between 8.5 to 5.6 Mya a progenitor of the caracal lineage arrived in Africa. The common ancestor to five felid lineages (ocelot, lynx, puma, leopard cat, and domestic cat) migrated across the Bering land bridge to North America, referred to as the New World migration. This period is also believed to have facilitated migrations of the Eurasian carnivores (ursid, procyonid, mustelid, and saber-toothed felids) to North America.

Additional Pliocene/Pleistocene migrations paved the way for the differentiation of the cheetah, originating from the North American puma and migrating to central Asia and Africa. Reversely, Asian Panthera species spread into America (jaguar, lion) and subsequently into Africa (lion and leopard).


Fig. 1. Global migrations of felids. source: Johnson et al., (2006)

Reference
- Johnson et al., Science (2006); 311: 73-7


Secret life of the cat: What do our feline companions get up to?

Ever wondered what your cat spends its time doing when you're not around? Where do our purring pets go when they disappear through the cat flap? Armed with GPS tracking devices and micro-cameras, a team from BBC Two's Horizon programme in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College set off to a Surrey village to find out. Discover more by selecting a cat character below.

Notes: The 10 cats above are a selection of 50 studied in the Surrey Hills over a number of weeks. Researchers used GPS trackers to record the cats' movements over six 24-hour periods. Micro-cameras were attached to a selection of cats to film their activities. All equipment was checked by animal welfare experts to ensure it was the right size and weight for cats to wear safely. The maps of the routes of the 10 cats above are not all from the same 24-hour period or necessarily from the same day the cat cam footage was recorded. GPS tracking data was filtered to discard obvious false readings, however some smaller inaccuracies may remain. Time ticks over a 24-hour period and does not reflect the hour of the day.

With thanks to Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College, Sarah Ellis of the University of Lincoln, John Bradshaw of Bristol University, and the villagers of Shamley Green

Web production: Steven Atherton, Chris Finch, Alex Ranken, Lucy Rodgers, Helene Sears, Marina Shchukina, Noah Veltman

Watch Horizon's Secret Life of the Cat on BBC Two on Thursday 13 June at 21:00 and afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

What's the furthest from home your cat has roamed? Send us your cat travel stories using the form below.


Cheetahs migrated from North America

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is now at home on the African plains, but it started a migration 100, 000 years ago from North America towards its current habitat. The research, published in the open access journal Genome Biology, found that the migration from North America was costly for the species, triggering the first major reduction in their gene pool.

The modern African cheetah is found across eastern and southern Africa, but it is highly endangered because of their small free ranging population and inbreeding. Researchers from St. Petersburg State University, Russia, in collaboration with BGI, China and CCF, Namibia, sequenced the genome from a male Namibian cheetah, called 'Chewbaaka', and six other wild cheetahs from Tanzania and Namibia. This gave further insight into the species evolutionary history and the breadth of genome impoverishment, which elevates juvenile mortality, causes extreme abnormalities in sperm development and increases vulnerability to infectious disease outbreaks.

A total of 18 cheetah genes showed damaging mutations and one gene in particular, AKAP4, showed a large number of mutations, which could harm sperm development and may explain why cheetah have a large proportion of defective sperm, and hence their low reproductive success.

The cheetah is descended from a relative of American pumas and their fossil record extends across the Americas, Europe and Asia. The species has suffered two population bottlenecks -- an event whereby the population is rapidly reduced due to environmental factors.

The first of these took place 100, 000 years ago, around the late Pleistocene -- a geological period shaped by repeated glaciations, when cheetahs started to move towards Asia across the Beringian landbridge and then travelled south to Africa. This migration was punctuated with dwindling populations and limited gene flow due to the individuals' own vast territory boundaries, measuring 300-800 square miles, thereby increasing incestuous mating.

The second bottleneck around 10- 12, 000 years ago, further reduced numbers, leading to further loss of endemic variability observed in modern cheetahs. This is because cheetahs disappeared from North America, when the last glacial retreat caused an abrupt extinction resulting in the loss of many large mammals, including cheetahs and pumas, from North America.

Cheetahs accept skin grafts from unrelated cheetahs as if they were clones. The genome analysis suggests that this is partly due to the loss of a few immune related genes and dramatic loss of diversity in the cheetahs' flagella genes. The variation is so limited that it is far below that observed in inbred dogs and cats. Tests carried out by the researchers show that the cheetah has lost 90-99% of the genetic variation typically seen in outbred mammals.

The researchers conclude that this latest insight into the history and adaptation of the endangered cheetah should be useful in efforts to sustain and increase cheetah population numbers in their present and former range habitats.


How did dogs get to the Americas? An ancient bone fragment holds clues

The history of dogs has been intertwined, since ancient times, with that of the humans who domesticated them.

But how far back does that history go in the Americas, and which route did dogs use to enter this part of the world?

A new study led by the University at Buffalo provides insight into these questions. The research reports that a bone fragment found in Southeast Alaska belongs to a dog that lived in the region about 10,150 years ago. Scientists say the remains -- a piece of a femur -- represent the oldest confirmed remains of a domestic dog in the Americas.

DNA from the bone fragment holds clues about early canine history in this part of the world.

Researchers analyzed the dog's mitochondrial genome, and concluded that the animal belonged to a lineage of dogs whose evolutionary history diverged from that of Siberian dogs as early as 16,700 years ago. The timing of that split coincides with a period when humans may have been migrating into North America along a coastal route that included Southeast Alaska.

The research will be published on Feb. 24 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist from UB, was senior author of the study, which included scientists from UB and the University of South Dakota. The findings add to a growing body of knowledge about the migration of dogs into the Americas.

"We now have genetic evidence from an ancient dog found along the Alaskan coast. Because dogs are a proxy for human occupation, our data help provide not only a timing but also a location for the entry of dogs and people into the Americas. Our study supports the theory that this migration occurred just as coastal glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age," says Lindqvist, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "There have been multiple waves of dogs migrating into the Americas, but one question has been, when did the first dogs arrive? And did they follow an interior ice-free corridor between the massive ice sheets that covered the North American continent, or was their first migration along the coast?"

"The fossil record of ancient dogs in the Americas is incomplete, so any new remains that are found provide important clues," says Flavio Augusto da Silva Coelho, a UB PhD student in biological sciences, and one of the paper's first authors. "Before our study, the earliest ancient American dog bones that had their DNA sequenced were found in the U.S. Midwest."

A surprise finding from a large collection of bones

Lindqvist's team did not set out to study dogs. The scientists came across the femur fragment while sequencing DNA from a collection of hundreds of bones excavated years before in Southeast Alaska by researchers including Timothy Heaton, PhD, professor of earth sciences at the University of South Dakota.

"This all started out with our interest in how Ice Age climatic changes impacted animals' survival and movements in this region," Lindqvist says. "Southeast Alaska might have served as an ice-free stopping point of sorts, and now -- with our dog -- we think that early human migration through the region might be much more important than some previously suspected."

The bone fragment, originally thought to come from a bear, was quite small, but when the DNA was studied, the team realized it was from a dog, Lindqvist says.

After this surprise discovery, the scientists compared the bone's mitochondrial genome to those of other ancient and modern dogs. This analysis showed that the Southeast Alaskan dog shared a common ancestor about 16,000 years ago with American canines that lived before the arrival of European colonizers, Lindqvist says. (Mitochondrial DNA, inherited from the mother, represents a small fraction of an organism's complete DNA, so sequencing a complete nuclear genome could provide further details if that material can be extracted.)

Of interest, carbon isotope analysis on the bone fragment indicates that the ancient Southeast Alaskan dog likely had a marine diet, which may have consisted of foods such as fish and scraps from seals and whales.

The research adds depth to the layered history of how dogs came to populate the Americas. As Lindqvist notes, canines did not arrive all at once. For example, some Arctic dogs arrived later from East Asia with the Thule culture, while Siberian huskies were imported to Alaska during the Gold Rush. Other dogs were brought to the Americas by European colonizers.

The new study sharpens the debate on dog and human migration into the Americas.

"Our early dog from Southeast Alaska supports the hypothesis that the first dog and human migration occurred through the Northwest Pacific coastal route instead of the central continental corridor, which is thought to have become viable only about 13,000 years ago," Coelho notes.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition to Lindqvist, Coelho and Heaton, authors of the new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B included Stephanie Gill and Crystal Tomlin.


Cats Do Control Humans, Study Finds

If you've ever wondered who's in control, you or your cat, a new study points to the obvious. It's your cat.

Household cats exercise this control with a certain type of urgent-sounding, high-pitched meow, according to the findings.

This meow is actually a purr mixed with a high-pitched cry. While people usually think of cat purring as a sign of happiness, some cats make this purr-cry sound when they want to be fed. The study showed that humans find these mixed calls annoying and difficult to ignore.

"The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response," said Karen McComb of the University of Sussex. "Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom." [In Photos: America's Favorite Pets]

They know us

Previous research has shown similarities between cat cries and human infant cries.

McComb suggests that the purr-cry may subtly take advantage of humans' sensitivity to cries they associate with nurturing offspring. Also, including the cry within the purr could make the sound "less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to," she said.

McComb got the idea for the study from her experience with her own cat, who would consistently wake her up in the mornings with a very insistent purr. After speaking with other cat owners, she learned that some of their cats also made the same type of call. As a scientist who studies vocal communication in mammals, she decided to investigate the manipulative meow.

Tough to test

Setting up the experiments wasn't easy. While the felines used purr-cries around their familiar owners, they were not eager to make the same cries in front of strangers. So McComb and her team trained cat owners to record their pets' cries &mdash capturing the sounds made by cats when they were seeking food and when they were not. In all, the team collected recordings from 10 different cats.

The researchers then played the cries back for 50 human participants, not all of whom owned cats. They found that humans, even if they had never had a cat themselves, judged the purrs recorded while cats were actively seeking food &mdash the purrs with an embedded, high-pitched cry &mdash as more urgent and less pleasant than those made in other contexts.

When the team re-synthesised the recorded purrs to remove the embedded cry, leaving all else unchanged, the human subjects' urgency ratings for those calls decreased significantly.

McComb said she thinks this cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring, "but we think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans." In fact, not all cats use this form of purring at all, she said, noting that it seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners rather than those living in large households, where their purrs might be overlooked.

The results were published in the July 14 issue of the journal Current Biology.


Question How did cats become domesticated?

Domesticated cats all come from wildcats called Felis silvestris lybica that originated in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East Neolithic period and in ancient Egypt in the Classical period.

National Photo Co. Woman holding cat. 1926. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

According to a recent study by Claudio Ottoni, cat domestication took place in two strains, but all domestic cats have a common ancestor: the North African / Southwest Asian wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica (Ottoni and others 2017). By studying ancient cat DNA from all over the world, the researchers found that cat domestication began in the Fertile Crescent (in the Neolithic period) and accelerated later in ancient Egypt (in the Classical period) (Ottoni and others 2017).

Other scientists have also discovered another potential instance of cat domestication. J.D. Vigne studied skeletal remains of cats in China and found that there may have been a short-lived domestication of leopards in China, independent of domestication elsewhere (Vigne and others 2016). However, they did not find evidence that any present day domesticated cats are related to leopards, so if there was a time that they were domesticated, it did not last (Vigne and others 2016).

The cat – Felis domesticus. L. Prang & Co., 1872. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The evidence from Ottoni’s study also gives an explanation for the way cats spread around the world. By analyzing the ancient DNA of cat remains found in port cities, the scientists concluded that cats were brought along on ships, most likely to help protect food storages on board by killing rodents (Ottoni and others 2017). This allowed cats to spread across the world.

Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. A contented cat at Yoder’s Amish Home … near Walnut Creek in central Ohio. 2016. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Another interesting element of the history of cat domestication has to do with cat coat patterns. Analyzing the pattern of cat coats is one of the best ways for scientists to distinguish between wild and domesticated cats, since it is one of the few visible differences between the two. Ottoni found that the recessive allele found in most tabby cats today that causes a blotched pattern did not appear in their study until the medieval period. This suggests that selective breeding for coat color did not appear until the medieval period, much later than the start of cat domestication (Ottoni and others 2017).

Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Popcorn the cat, one of a dozen or so feline residents at Gammons Gulch, a recreated Old West town and the site of dozens of movies, commerical shoots and the like in the remote desert north of Benson in Cochise County, Arizona. 2018. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Scientists have also used coat colors and patterns to study other aspects of cats. For example, V.J. Crossley found that depending on their breed, coat color, and hair length, cats may be more susceptible to hyperthyroidism (Crossley and others 2017). The study suggests an increased risk of hyperthyroidism for longhair non-purebred cats, but a decreased risk for many pedigreed longhair cats compared to domestic shorthairs (Crossley and others 2017).

Kittens crawling on Representative Peter Kostmayer in his Congressional office. Roll Call photograph, 1991. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Many experts are also curious as to whether there is a link between coat color and behavior. E.A. Stelow used an online survey study and found that there may be a slightly better chance for tortoiseshell, calico, gray and white, and black and white cats to be more aggressive than others (Stelow and others 2015).

Another question is whether coat color impacts the length of time a cat will stay in a shelter. W.P. Brown concluded that younger and lighter colored cats generally find homes more quickly than older and darker colored cats (Brown and Morgan 2014).

These studies show that the history of cat domestication and the connection to coat colors and patterns is a topic of interest in the scientific community today. There is still much to learn about the history of cat domestication.

Hunter, Thomas (Lithographer). Cats. 1881. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Published: 11/19/2019. Author: Science Reference Section, Library of Congress


. But cats are clever all the same

Dogs may have more active social lives, but don't discount the feline brain just yet. In 2010, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers recorded a wild cat mimicking the call of its prey — a small monkey. The Amazon-dwelling cat, called a margay, was seen making monkey noises near a group of pied tamarins. When the tamarins drew closer to investigate, the margay attempted an ambush.

In this case, one tamarin realized the ruse and saved the other monkeys with a warning scream. But the observation suggests that wild cats may be even wilier than expected.


Animals Used in Education

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 20 million animals are abused for cruel, archaic teaching exercises, despite the existence of superior non-animal teaching tools. Roughly half of them are killed and used for classroom dissection others are tormented while they’re still alive in classroom biology and psychology experiments and cut apart in medical training drills.

The tragedy of these animals’ deaths is magnified by the fact that humane, non-animal learning methods, like sophisticated computer software, are available and have been shown to teach anatomy and complex biological processes as well as—or better than—cruel, archaic, and environmentally destructive animal labs, while instilling in students respect for animals’ lives.

Dissection

Approximately 10 million animals are used for crude classroom dissection exercises annually in the U.S. PETA’s investigations into biological supply companies, which sell animal bodies and parts, have uncovered acts of cruelty to animals, including the drowning of rabbits and the embalming of cats while they were still alive.

Biological supply houses breed animals such as mice, rats, and rabbits obtain fetal pigs from slaughterhouses that cut them from their mothers’ bodies after their mothers are killed and trap or take other types of animals from a variety of locations.

For example, millions of frogs are captured in their natural habitats every year for dissection and experimentation, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has even stated that amphibian population declines are due in part to the use of these animals in dissection. Other animals, such as the cats commonly dissected in biology courses, are obtained from animal shelters, pet stores, backyards, and the streets of the U.S. and Mexico.

Classroom Experiments

In addition to the animals mutilated in dissection, millions of live mice, rabbits, rats, turtles, and other animals are tormented and killed in crude university-level biology and psychology demonstrations. Turtles are smashed on the head with hammers and have holes drilled into their shells so that their hearts can be viewed and manipulated. Frogs’ brains are destroyed when pins are stuck through their skulls so that students can cut them open and stimulate their exposed muscles with electricity. Mice, rabbits, and rats are also subjected to highly invasive, painful, and otherwise harmful procedures at the hands of students and professors, including electric shock, surgically induced brain damage, drug addiction, starvation, maternal deprivation, and more.

Medical Training

Although no U.S. medical schools use animals to teach students, some other medical programs continue to have trainees attempt to learn various concepts and skills by performing invasive and often deadly procedures on animals.

In some emergency medical training courses at universities and hospitals, dogs, pigs, sheep, and goats have holes cut into their throats and chests and needles stabbed into their hearts. In horrific military training drills, goats and pigs are shot, stabbed, dismembered, blown up, and burned. In a dwindling number of pediatrics programs, cats and ferrets have hard tubes repeatedly forced down their delicate throats for intubation training. Other courses have trainees practice using surgical tools and other medical devices by cutting into live animals.

Compassionate Curricula

Animals aren’t the only ones whose lives are negatively affected by these cruel animal tests. In addition to the harm caused to animals, many people at all stages of their educational careers are uncomfortable with the use of animals in education. Studies show that exposing students—more than half of whom oppose animal testing—to animal dissection can traumatize them, foster insensitivity toward animals, and even dissuade some from pursuing careers in science.

Thankfully, because of growing ethical concerns, technological advances, and robust findings about the educational effectiveness of modern non-animal methods, many people are rejecting these crude animal laboratories and educators and professional organizations at all levels are embracing more humane teaching tools.

Sophisticated computer software and strikingly lifelike human simulators have been repeatedly shown to teach basic and advanced biological principles and medical procedures better than invasive, painful, and deadly animal laboratories, while instilling in students respect for animals’ lives. Unlike dissection and live-animal laboratories, in which students have one opportunity to perform a procedure and learn the requisite content, non-animal methods allow students to repeat the material until they are proficient and confident without the distraction of mutilating or harming an animal. And for those learning to treat people, these humane methods model human anatomy and physiology.

Physicians in training at nearly every medical school are now taught with a combination of didactic methods, human-patient simulators, interactive computer programs, safe human-based teaching methods, and clinical experience. Today, one can even become a board-certified surgeon without harming any animals, and experience with animal dissection and experimentation on live animals isn’t required or expected of those applying to medical school. Veterinary training programs are increasingly moving away from performing harmful procedures on animals as well.

While there was a time when the use of animals in the classroom went almost unchallenged, today’s students are ready, willing, and able to stand up for animals and work with PETA to use non-animal methods that are more humane and effective. For more information on how you can say no to harming animals in the classroom, click here.


13 vintage National Geographic photos of cats

A champion chinchilla Persian rests near a stack of books “like a lordly little lion” in Bloomsberg, Pennsylvania.

“Urban areas have wildlife that are already affected by human development and landscape fragmentation,” says Troi Perkins, one of the study’s authors, who managed U.S. data collection while an undergraduate at North Carolina State University.

“The more pet cats outside, the more stress and fatalities local wildlife species can encounter,” she says. “The ecological impact of housecats roaming outside can be even more dire when there are threatened or endangered wildlife living nearby.”


Natural history

The lion, tiger (Panthera tigris), and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are mainly terrestrial, but they are agile climbers the leopard (Panthera pardus), jaguar (P. onca), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), and other cats are very much at home in trees. The larger cats range over large areas, often roving alone or with a companion. Occasionally one may become a member of a family group. Only lions are gregarious, with prides consisting of as many as 30 individuals.

Almost all cats feed on small mammals and birds or on large herbivores such as deer and various types of antelope. The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) feeds largely on fishes and clams or snails and thus fits into a slightly different niche than that of most cats. The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is the only species known to feed to any extent on vegetation such as fruit and sweet potatoes. Food caching occurs in larger cats, and some may drag their kill into a tree or place it under a bush after the initial gorging. Cats live on a feast-or-famine routine, gorging themselves when a kill is made and then fasting for several days.

Most hunting is done using vision and hearing. Typically solitary while hunting, a cat steals up to its prey on padded feet. Long, sensitive whiskers on the face aid the cat during the stalking of the prey by brushing against obstacles and enabling the cat to avoid making excessive noise. When close to its prey, the cat overwhelms it in a short, quick rush or leap. Cats can move very fast in a short dash but are not built for sustained speed. The cheetah, which usually hunts during the day, is credited with being the speediest of mammals, capable of speeds of more than 100 km per hour (62 mph). Cats rely on superior speed and reflexes to overtake their dodging prey, which often has greater endurance. If overtaken, the prey is thrown down and dispatched with a deep bite, usually to the neck.

The gestation period of most smaller cats is approximately two months, and that of the larger cats is closer to four months. One to six kittens make up the usual litter. Female cats may have from four to eight nipples. The breeding season usually is in the late winter or early spring. Some cats (lions, tigers, and leopards) are capable of breeding at any time during the year, and many species are induced ovulators, ovulation being induced by hormones released during copulation. The size of the animal does not seem to determine the litter size, number of litters, or time of the breeding season. In the larger cats, however, the initial breeding age is older the females may be three or four years of age and males as old as five or six. Smaller cats may breed when less than a year old. Most litters are born in places seldom disturbed, such as in a rocky cavern, under a fallen tree, or in a dense thicket. The serval (Leptailurus serval) uses an old porcupine or aardvark burrow. In most species the male does not aid in the care and raising of the young, and in fact the female may have to guard against his attacks on the kittens.


Scottish Wildcat

The Scottish wildcat is a large tabby cat with a bushy black ringed tail that is native to Scotland. There are only about 400 left and are thus among the most endangered species in the United Kingdom. As with other endangered species, threats to the wildcat's survival include habitat fragmentation and loss, illegal killing, and the presence of feral domestic cats in wild Scottish landscapes. This last leads to interbreeding and natural selection resulting in the loss of some of the characteristics which define the species.

Species-based conservation of the Scottish wildcat has included removing them from the wild and placing them into zoos and wildlife sanctuaries for captive breeding, as well as the targeted destruction of feral domestic and hybrid cats in the wild. But that reduces the number of wild animals even further. Fredriksen )2016) has argued that the pursuit of "native' Scottish biodiversity by attempting to stamp out "non-native' feral cats and the hybrids reduces the benefits of natural selection. It may be that the best chance the Scottish wildcat has of surviving in the face of a changing environment is to breed with domestic cats who are better adapted to it.