The species Felis catus is the only member of the feline family to be domesticated, and is called either the house cat if they live indoors, or feral cats who live outside. There are about 60 cat breeds, although they all are the same species. This is just like how there is only one species of domestic dog, but many breeds. Cats have long been valued and loved companions to humans, both because of their help with hunting rodents and because of affection and comfort. But how exactly did cats come to live alongside humans, and why?
The genus Felis, to which domestic cats belong, is first shown in the fossil record roughly 6 or 7 million years ago. This separation from other feline groups, such as big cats, is likely due to physical separation. The artificial selection which led to Felis catus, though, has only happened within the past 10,000 years. It is currently thought that the oldest evidence of a house cat is in Cyprus, some 9,000 years ago. One such cat was found to be buried ceremonially alongside other human graves. The strange thing is, though, that there is no evidence that cats are native to Cyprus, nor are any mammals. Neolithic people must have brought the cats to the island after encountering them elsewhere.
The best guess for where that elsewhere was is the Fertile Crescent, an area of land in Mesopotamia, in what is now the Middle East and parts of Europe. There were mammals native to these areas, and, more importantly, it is where the advent of agriculture occurred. With large stores of grain and fields of crops, animals such as mice started to move to these food sources. They are also an important prey animal for cats, and so by association, cats moved to live close to humans. The relationship is mutually beneficial; cats get to eat and humans get to preserve their grain crops.
From there, domestic cats were spread across Europe throughout the Roman Empire, were brought into Egypt (where, lucky for them, they were worshipped) via the ports, and through trade into China.
But why would they want to live close to humans, other than the mice? For one thing, cats are actually very social animals, although they usually live and hunt alone. They have very clear body language that humans can understand, and they’re affectionate. They like to play and are very smart, which is conducive to living in communities of humans who can interact with them. Other felines, even big cats like leopards, display some of the affection and playfulness around humans that we see with Felis catus. If humans weren’t able to fulfill those social needs, they could still hang around our farms and catch mice. Domestic cats can survive in the wild still, and are slightly compatible with some wild cats. The wild Kellas cat in Scotland is a good example of a wild domestic cat. They look like regular black cats, live entirely outside, and are a hybrid between a Scottish wild cat and a domestic cat.
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I hope you found this interesting. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave those in the comments below! Thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye!
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