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.
I like cats just fine...but I am more of a dog person.
WE know this already.
Cats are domesticated? Mine would disagree. From his point of view, I kind of domesticated myself.
Dogs have masters, cats have staff!
What hunch? My 2, soon to be 3, cats tell me this on a daily basis...I have no choice in the matter. Cats are little people in furry coats
Get a cat that acts like a dog. Ours will fetch.
My father’s cat sees the family as funny looking, if defective, cats.
He wonders and yells about why we don’t go hunt morsels with him.
He seriously doesn’t understand that we cannot fit through the thicket across the street as stealthily as he.
Cat..... the other white meat....
A burglar has entered your home. Your dog goes wild!!!!Disturbed by the dog’s barking, your cat takes a deep breath and goes back to sleep. I swear...cat’s have Ritalin etched into their DNA.
My 24 pound monster thinks I am here to serve her.
Her counterpart with my missus sees us as being here to save him from the floating invisible threat that chases him.
Like sheep or any other animals they have been domesticated by kindness.
How can they be returned to the wild?
I’m VERRRRRY allergic to cats and have had to pass on some very promissing relationships because of their presence.
When you register a “6” on a “0 - 5” scale, the doc’s won’t give you shots, and I’m not about to walk around all doped up, on account of a cat.
Cats are not domesticated, any more than people are. They choose to live with us for their own reasons - friendship, food, warmth, whatever. If they do not find what they are looking for, they leave. Dogs and other domesticated animals will not.
I have met some *big* cats (panther, leopard) that were friendly to humans. I have met some small feral cats that wanted to eat my head. *All* the species of cats are smart for their size and can and will decide what they want to do all on their own.
My Bengal and Orange Tabby both fetch a ball and drop it in your hand or at your feet.
True. My cat would like me to run up the backs of armchairs with him, and go out hunting lizards in company.
He goes to the edge of the woods and meows and looks back at me. So we go for walks. Then he darts up a tree and wants me to come up there with him.
I am not as domesticated as he thinks. In fact I am a bit feral still.
I guess it depends on the definition and context of ‘domesticate’.
My father’s cat isn’t truly ‘domesticated’, but he’s domesticated in as much as he likes his electric lights, running water, and climate control.
But he’s still a feral cat that decided that humans were to be his ‘clan.’
Weird, these furry critters.
You’ve never seen “It Takes A Thief” on the Discovery Channel, have you?
Also, I’ve heard of a housecat that took down an invading burglar. From the story and if I recall correctly, the cat tripped him, swarmed his head, ripped out the guy’s jugular, and then peed on his face. Burglar died, of course.
NiMH cat does that.
He also brings home live prey to teach us how to hunt.
sure wish mine would leave.. bought for the daughters, now stuck with them. they are now 17 and 15.
I’ve been trying to arrrange a “leaving” for six months now.. and then I look at them, and they get that Bugs Bunny wide eyed and teary look..
Here is the news link:
We have what we believe to be a Bengal mix and she loves to play with balls—the toy kind. I think she would be capable of playing fetch if she weren’t so ornery. And we also have an orange tabby. We got both cats last year when they were kittens and found in back yards. I’ve just fallen in love with this Bengal (well, and the tabby too). We got ours for free and we took her to give her a home, but now I want another one. I’ve been looking them up on the internet and they cost hundreds of dollars. Yikes!
I have 2 cats that LOVE to play fetch. They are worse than dogs - they never tire of it. I do. As long as I throw something, they will lunge after it, pick it up in their mouth and bring it back to me and shove it in my hand.
I once tried a fetch marathon to see how long before they lost interest.
They didn't - I wore out long before they did.
Oh my goodness that's hilarious. I love that line!
Our cat has us in our chose roles: if I get up first she doesn't make any motions to bother me about getting fed. But as soon as my wife makes an appearance, the cat starts nagging her to make haste on the breakfast. Even if it's hours later.
I’d just love to read this but my cats are calling and they just hate it when I am not timely.
So, your cat taught you how to throw. Pretty smart cat!!
if you had a kitten and a puppy from birth,both born the same week and both raised by you, now avance to five years from now and late at night, a thief enters your home with certain ill intent.
The dog will fight to the death to defend you and the cat will sneak out an opening in the house with the video cam and go to an outside window,film the whole thing,sell it to CNN and retire.
sounds like a Paris Hilton documentaty huh
When I get home in the evening, my cats go to ‘wet food’ bowl and meow until food is placed in their bowl. Immediately after, they go to the back door and meow until the door is opened for them to go sit on the porch in the heat. When it’s finally dark, they come in, the door is closed and I don’t see them until it’s bedtime and they jump on the bed to get a good night nudge. I’m telling you, the only reason I think I’m alive (and still living in the house) is that I haven’t strayed from the rules.
heh... true. Of course I happen to be deathly allergic to cats. That means hives, constriction of lungs, inability to breath, anaphylactic shock after 2 hours of exposure without heavy doses of meds that make me drowsy/stupid. Sooooo... I naturally take out my frustration on the things that could kill me if I’m not careful. Imagine not being able to go to a friends house because they have cats? Yeah its kinda like that. So if I lack imagination at least I don’t kill the little furballs out of hand on general principle.
Heh. My sibling-American had a cat growing up that I intentionally treated like a dog. Little tiny cat that I'd wrestle with and play paw-pat with. The thing would beat up much larger cats, and I got such fast hand-speed that I could reliably out-strike it (the claws made me learn fast). This cat knew its name, would come when called, and would fetch too.
Hmm, so that's why Warner Brothers named their cartoon cat 'Sylvester".
In the last two months, I have attempted to study the behavior of my lady's two cats, who have tolerated my moving in. The black one is much like the stupid but evil cat in the "Get Fuzzy" cartoon. I've tried somewhat successfully to keep him from getting underfoot when I'm in the kitchen. Not every trip to that room is for the purpose of feeding him.
The white one is stupid in a 'stoned' sort of way. Think of 'Crush', the sea turtle in the "Finding Nemo" movie, and you'll know what I'm talking about. I do a California surfer dude voice that sounds like the character, to put words in his mouth, as he's reacting to the world in his clueless way, and it makes my lady laugh out loud!
“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.