Skip to comments.Scientists believe cats 'sort of domesticated themselves'
Posted on 06/29/2007 8:02:15 AM PDT by DogByte6RER
Scientists believe cats 'sort of domesticated themselves'
THE WASHINGTON POST
June 29, 2007
WASHINGTON Your hunch is correct. Your cat decided to live with you, not the other way around. The sad truth is, it may not be a final decision.
But don't take this feline diffidence personally. It runs in the family. And it goes back a long way about 12,000 years, actually.
Those are among the inescapable conclusions of a genetic study of the origins of the domestic cat, being published today in the journal Science.
The findings, drawn from the analysis of nearly a thousand cats around the world, suggest that the ancestors of today's tabbies, Persians and Siamese wandered into Near Eastern settlements at the dawn of agriculture. They were looking for food, not friendship.
They found what they were seeking in the form of rodents feeding on stored grain. They stayed for 12 millennia, although not without wandering off now and again to consort with their wild cousins.
The story is quite different from that of other domesticated animals cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and dogs, cats' main rivals for human affection. It may even provide some insight on the behavior of the animal that, if not man's best friend, is certainly his most inscrutable.
It is a story about one of the more important biological experiments ever undertaken, said Stephen O'Brien, a molecular geneticist at the National Cancer Institute's laboratory in Frederick, Md., and one of the supervisors of the project.
We think what happened is that cats sort of domesticated themselves, said Carlos Driscoll, the University of Oxford graduate student who did the work, which required him, among other things, to befriend feral cats on the Mongolian steppes.
There are today 37 species in the family Felidae, ranging from lions through ocelots down to little Mittens. All domestic cats are descended from the species Felis sylvestris (cat of the woods), which goes by the common name wildcat.
The species is indigenous to Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. The New World, Japan and Oceania lack wildcats. Their closest counterpart in North America is the lynx.
There are five subspecies of wildcats and they look very much like many pet cats, particularly nonpedigree ones. The Scottish wildcat, for example, is indistinguishable from a barn cat with a mackerel tabby coat. These animals, however, are true wild species. They are not escaped pets that have become feral, or reverted to the wild.
Driscoll and his collaborators, who included Oxford zoologist David Macdonald, took blood samples and ear punch biopsies from all wildcat subspecies, and from fancy-breed cats, ordinary pet cats, and feral cats. They analyzed two different kinds of genetic fingerprints.
One was nuclear DNA, which carries nearly all of an animal's genes and reflects inheritance from both parents. The other was mitochondrial DNA, which exists outside the cell nucleus, carries only a few genes, and descends through the generations only from the mothers, never from fathers.
Both fingerprints showed that domesticated cats all around the world are most closely related to the wildcat subspecies (called lybica) that lives in the Near East.
One might think that people in each region would have domesticated their local wildcats. In that case, European pet cats today would genetically most closely resemble European wildcats and Chinese cats would be descended from East Asian wildcats. But that isn't the case.
Genetics can't answer the question, but history and archaeology can provide a good guess.
Large-scale grain agriculture began in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. With the storage of surplus grain came mice, which fed on it and contaminated it.
Settled farming communities with dense rodent populations were a new habitat. Wildcats came out of the woods and grasslands to exploit it. They may have lived close to man but not petting-close for centuries.
Eventually, though, natural selection favored individual animals whose genetic makeup by chance made them tolerant of human contact. Such behavior provided them with them with things a night indoors, the occasional bowl of milk that allowed them to out-compete their scaredy-cat relatives in town.
“Get a cat that acts like a dog. Ours will fetch.”
Wow. We have one (Tommy) that practically raised our two Dachshunds. All three of them will roll around and wrestle in the yard.
Oddly, that cat looks a lot like our cat.
She tolerates being carried around by a sucession of toddlers, and seldom scratches them (even when they deserve it), so she’s OK.
She is not quite the born killer of our previous cat, though. That one would bring me (not Mrs. MWT or the clan) daily offerings of mice and birds.
I live in an all-but-me female household, and we’ve noticed the cats always treat me as the alpha-male of the pride. It’s pretty funny, if annoying, to always have a cat underfoot and/or in-lap.
Now I know why my cat just stares at me at times with that “hey stoopid, I can leave anytime I want but I stay here because I want you to be blessed with my presence” look on her face.
..... the other white meat....
Hmmm, that’s what a tiger or lion might think as they were about to tear you to shreds before devouring you.
Squirrels, rats, voles, shrews, mice, spiders, who knows what species of mold have chosen to live with us. Why not cats.
I thought cats sort of domesticated people...
The Egyptians thought the cats were gods.
The cats agreed.
Cats basically tolerate humans. If the average cat was twice as big as it is, and the average cat owner was only half as big as he is, the owner wouldn’t be an owner.
He/she would be lunch.
Anybody who has watched even the mildest house cat when it’s on the prowl will be astounded by the brutality and indifference.
You know what they say, what goes around comes around.
He has disappeared 4 times so far including this time. Two times, we were called by animal control services due to the chip implant. One time, he was roaming another neighborhood and we found him at our synagogue and carried him home. Later out we found that one of our neighbors said he was hanging out around a neighbor a few blocks away. This time though, it looks like he may be gone for good.
You can't tell me that this cat domesticated himself. (that %$#@* cat).
— Sorry can’t remember whose quote I just stole!
She needs to get a worthwhile hobby. Purposely breeding cats should mean jail time in this world today. Witch.
I was wondering how long it would take for the free cat to come up. Thanks for the laugh.
We had a cat, 30 years ago, that just showed up at the door one day, out of nowhere, walked in like she owned the place, and decided to stay. She lived there for the next five or six years and died. Would bring up snakes and birds and stuff and put them on the front door steps at night.........
It wasn’t up for long.
You have a cat named "Nickel-Metal Hydride"?
Link to the original news article and read about how PETA was outraged by this lady’s cat breeding.
Also...check out some of the comments posted by readers at the end of the article.
We have an Australian Cattle Dog who is obsessed with chasing frisbies. When he was about 8 months old, we took him with us on bike ride across the state of Kansas. I drove the motor home and my husband, four close friends and about 1000 other friends went along. One evening we decided to see how long Barkley would retrive the frisbie. The six of us went at it for about 2 1/2 hours, sitting around eating and drinking beer. We finally got sick of it and told him to go away (other nice trick is if you tell him “out” he leaves). So he went around to other camp sites, dropping the frisbie at people’s feet and kept it going another hour before we finally called him home and put him in the motor home. It was getting dark.