Let's Talk About Housecats

There are 600 million housecats in the world -give or take a few- making them the most popular pet worldwide. It wasn't always so. How did the world become so cat-obsessed? Cats as we know them are descended from the African wildcat Felis sylvestris, shown here. It doesn't look so different from a housecat, except for those dangerous-looking fangs.

There’s a very similar saying among researchers that dogs were domesticated, but cats domesticated themselves.

While not strictly true in terms of dogs (oh, I can go off on dog domestication do not get me started) this is pretty much on the money for cats. Humans didn’t grab cats and make them start hunting mice. In fact, that would be incredibly difficult, as wildcats are extremely shy. Cats simply heard the rodents squeaking around in whatever the ancient version of a silo was and went after them. And the humans certainly had no reason to discourage them (once they figured out what was going on, I presume- I imagine the first human opening a door and spotting a cat inside shrieking “THE MICE HAVE GROWN HUGE SAVE YOURSELF”)

Flight distance refers to the distance an animal is willing to let you approach it before it flees. African wildcats today have a pretty massive flight distance- you are extremely lucky if you see one before it spots you and jets. Those first cats attacking the mice in human granaries would have had a big disadvantage if they were running every time they spotted a human within thirty feet. So, they adapted. Their flight distance shrank from generation until eventually they were able to tolerate humans within feet of them. Think of the behavior of squirrels in suburban areas. They aren’t going to let you pick them up, exactly… but they’re definitely not afraid of you.

But this relationship underwent a big change when Egyptians went nuts about cats. Koryos at Newt in the Throat tells us the history of the domestic cat in an entertaining and understandable way, with lots of cute pictures. Link -via Metafilter


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