Classifying Cats – Part 1: Felix the Cat

Things seem to go all one way or the other with cats. Either you’re just talking about a “cat” as opposed to a dog – and everybody knows what you mean – or you’re arguing with another cat fancier about whether the Himalayan is a separate cat breed or a colorpoint Persian.

This begs some interesting questions, like how a domestic cat, one of the big cats and the extinct saber-toothed tiger might be related or why hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs.

What’s in a name?

Size, fur characteristics and coloring aside, all domestic cats are the same species, Felix catus.  

That’s right – after building an impressive organizational (taxonomic) chart that shows where our little friends fit into the world of animals, scientists went ahead and named them all “Felix the cat.”

Perhaps those scientists were dog people. After all, it’s not as though names like Felis magnificus and Felis decoris were already taken.

Or Felis presidenticus.  (NARA)

Or Felis presidenticus. (NARA)

So, where do the different domestic cat breeds come from?

Basically, over many centuries humans have genetically engineered (bred) them for their looks and then given a specific breed name to a group of Felix-the-cats who look alike.

The resulting shapes, sizes, colors and other nonstructural characteristics are wonderful to behold, but the process does have its down side. However, in terms of their bones – which is what scientists base their organizational charts on – those breeds are all Felis catus.

Relatives of the house cat

Taxonomically, Felix has some close relatives in the wild. These other members of the Felis genus are all fairly small and generally shaped like the domestic cat.

You’ll find the complete list at the above “chart” link. The largest – bigger than our Felix – is the jungle cat, Felis chaus, from Asia. The smallest is the sand cat, Felis margarita (perhaps Happy Hour was approaching when the naming committee got to this one).

According to Dr. Wikipedia, sand cats are the only felids found in true deserts… .

Wait – what’s a felid?

Well that will have to wait until next week, when we’ll also take a look at feliforms.

Hint:  Of all these feliforms, only the leopard and that toothy fellow on the right are felids.  (Click to enlarge)

Hint: Of all these feliforms, only the leopard and that toothy fellow on the right are felids. (Images are from Wikipedia – Click to enlarge)

Categories: Friday's Casual Cat

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