All cats, wild or domestic belong to the same family of felines (Felidae). About 8 – 12 million years ago the cat evolved in two groups. Scientists call them the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ world, depending where they live today.
From Miacides to Proailurus
Like most existing meat-eating mammals the cat descends from the first mammal who existed 60 million years ago. After the dinosaurs disappears, this family evolved: The Miacides. Miacides are mammals that look a lot like a civet instead of a cat. With a long body, long tail but short legs. They had a better developed brain and could adapt easier to changes.
All other modern cats are formed out of this first group of mammals. Like the first cat: The Proailurus which is half cat and half civet. About 20 million years ago the proailurus evolved into a psuedaelurus: the first feline who walked on his toes and with flattened long front teeth ala sabre tiger. This cat is the first modern cat family named the Felidae.
Research shows that within the entire cat family there are 8 related feline groups. Panthers were first, followed by small felines like the ocelet and the Felis Lunensis who lived in Europa 6,2 million years ago but is now extinct. This cat is the direct ancestor from our house cat and all small wild cats in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Panthera & Felis
Big cats who growl are classified as ‘Panthera‘. Small Felines who don’t growl are classified as ‘Felis‘. The wild cat who looks a lot like our domestic cats is family of the ‘felis‘ group. Within the ‘Felis’ group is also the African Wild Cat. The African Wild Cat came closer to the human in Egypt 5000 years ago. The domestic cat is most likely related to this African cat.
Salesmen took the domestic cat to Italy and within a good 2000 years the cat could be found in whole Europe and West-Asia. The cat can be found on every continent and Island (except Antarctica) since the 19th century.
Africa Through Europe
The first big cats walked around the world. Lions moved from Africa through Europe, Southeast-Asia to the west, then to America and to the north of Siberia. The Leopard and jaguars spread around the biggest part of Europe, Asia, Africa and North- and South America.
The oldest fossils from tigers are found in China.
Cats by Bruce Fogle.