Cats. What would our lives be life without them? Well, for starters, there would probably be less memes on the internet. Cats have been providing humans with companionship for almost 10,000 years, and October 29th has been designated as the day to celebrate all things feline. So for National Cat Day, Safari Ltd® is here with all you need to know about cats!
Today’s house cats (Felis silvestris catus) are believed to be descended from the African wildcat, and there are currently over 50 recognized breeds of domestic cat. These include the common tabby cats, which are available in many colors and patterns. When people picture a cat, a tabby is what they’re most likely to think of. There are many other variations, however with many unique qualities, from the long-haired Persian to the completely hairless Sphinx cat. There’s even a breed of cat, the Manx, that lacks a tail!
All cats are members of the family Felidae. This means that your house cat is in the same family as the lion, the tiger, the leopard, and the jaguar! These large cats are members of the Panthera genus, and are collectively known as “big cats”. They grow the largest, and are notable in that they are the only members of the cat family that are capable of roaring. Lions and leopards are found mostly in Africa with small remnants in Asia, the tiger is restricted to only a few areas in Asia and the jaguar is the only true big cat to be found in the Americas.
Other members of the cat family are sometimes included under the umbrella of “big cat”, despite not belonging to the Panthera genus and lacking the ability to roar. These include the cheetah, the fastest land animal in the world capable of speeds up to 70 miles per hour, and the mountain lion or puma, a large cat found in North and South America. Once common across the entire United States, the mountain lion is now mostly restricted to the western states, with only a small population found in Florida (known as the Florida panther) left on the east coast.
Cats are carnivores, subsisting on a diet made up entirely of meat. They have sharp, retractable claws and large canine teeth to help them hunt and capture their prey. The extinct saber-toothed cats, such as Smilodon, were known for their giant canine teeth, which could grow to almost one foot in length. These large teeth were a unique adaptation that helped Smilodon take down its prey, which consisted of plant eating mammals that were typically much larger than those found today.
Modern cats also have unique adaptations that help them hunt. The stripes of the tiger and spots of leopards and jaguars (known as “rosettes”) may seem quite striking when the animal is seen out of its natural environment, these patterns actually help them blend in with their jungle habitat, making it harder for their prey to spot them until it’s too late. But the master of cat camouflage is the snow leopard, which can be nearly impossible to pick out amongst the rocky backdrop of its mountainous habitat.
Lynxes, medium sized cats that live in cold and snowy environments, also have an interesting and unique adaptation: their giant feet. The oversized feet of these cats help them to walk on the snow, like snowshoes, and they’re even furry on the bottom to help the lynx’s feet stay warm. The bobcat, a relative of the lynx that is commonly found in warmer environments, notably lacks this fluffy feature.
The cats we’ve discussed in this blog are just a few of the 41 currently known species of cats in the world. Take the time on this National Cat Day to go explore and learn some more about cats. Or just find a friendly feline (domestic, not wild) and give a head scratch to show some appreciation!
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: Cats don’t have a sweet tooth. They seem mostly “meh” about sugary foods, and recent studies show this may be because cats cannot detect sweet flavor at all!