What You Should Know About the Cat Family

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Until recently, the cat family, Felidae, was classified into three groups based on their similarities and differences. Big cats or Panthera were grouped together because they are big and kill big prey. Small cats or Felis were grouped together because they are relatively small and usually take small prey, although pumas, long included in this group, are quite big and take large prey, and cheetahs or Acinonyx, with their lanky bodies, retractable but unsheathed claws, and adaptations for high speed, formed their own group.

However, species can look very much alike not because they are closely related but because they are adapted to similar lifestyles. So, by studying the genetic make up of the cat family scientists' have reclassified them into eight groups, called lineages.

The Panthera lineage consists of the six species of big cats like lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards. The Ocelot lineage is made up of seven small South American cats like ocelots, margays, oncillas, pampas cats, Andean mountain cats, kod and cats.

Then there is the Lynx lineage of lynxes, bobcats, and more surprisingly the marbled cats of Asia, which based on distribution, habit and physical appearance, were long thought to be a type of a miniature clouded leopard.

The African caracal, with beautiful tufted ears, and the African golden cat from the Caracal lineage, while the latter's look alike, the Asian golden cat is allied with the little known Bornean bay cat in the Bay Cat lineage.

Asia's fishing cats and flat headed cats, both unusual in their ability to catch fish, the common leopard cat and the rare Iriomote cat, found only on the Pacific Island of the same name, make up the Asian Leopard Cat lineage.

Most surprising is the Puma lineage, which consists of that big small cat as well as the slinky jaguarondi and the cheetah. Two species remain unclassified, the lanky, big eared African serval, which specialized in pouncing on rodents as they emerge from underground burrows, and the rusty spotted cat, a native of India and Sri Lanka that at under three pounds rivals the black footed cat for the title of the world's smallest cat.

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What You Should Know About the Cat Family

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This article was published on 2010/03/29