Today we look at the eighth and last of the Lineages that make up the Felinae family. The Felis lineage. It’s the youngest of the linages and is thought to have diverged around 3.4 million years ago. It contains the ancestor to our domestic cats in the wildcat along with four other cat species. The five cats are all closely related and distributed in Africa and Eurasia. The Chinese Mountain cat has been classified as a Wildcat subspecies however with limited genetic data this is widely refuted and we have 5 cats to look at.
The largest of the Felis Lineage, the Jungle cat, was once considered to be related to the Lynx family and you can see the familiar small ear tufts, however there is no doubt now it belongs in the Felis Lineage. Diverging around 3 million years ago its closest relative is the Black footed cat and there are thought to be around 6 subspecies. The Jungle cat has a patchy distribution throughout Asia and despite its name it typically avoids dense jungle vegetation and is more suited to its alternative names Swamp Cat and Reed Cat.
The Black footed Cat is one of the smallest of the wild cats, only slightly larger than the Rusty Spotted Cat. It is however a renowned fearsome hunter. In Afrikaans its known as ‘Miershootier’ meaning Ant-Hill Tiger. During hunts they are thought to have around a 60% success rate with between 10-14 rodents or birds killed each night. An average of a kill every 50 minutes, amazingly consuming about 20% of their body weight every single night! They are endemic to Southern Africa and can be found in dry, open habitats with good cover for stalking prey. They can often be found in empty burrows created and abandoned by Aardvarks or Spring Hares.
The Sand Cat was once thought to have been related to the Pallas Cat, maybe because of the low set ears, however genetic analysis places it firmly in the Felis Lineage. They’re small diminutive cats with a pale sandy coloured pelt, small head and large ears. Its closest relative is the Wildcat with a distinct divergence estimated only around 2.5 million years ago. They have a discontinuous distribution across Africa with separate populations in Central Asia, the Middle east and the Arabian Peninsula. Whilst they are independent of drinking water, getting all the needed moisture from the liquid in their food sources, they do drink water when available. They also have furry paws giving them protection from the burning hot sands.
The Chinese Mountain cat taxonomy and phylogeny is one that is disputed. In 2007 It was reclassified as subspecies of the wild cat however, this study was based upon a very small sample number and the classification is disputed requiring further analysis. Along with the Andean Mountain cat and Bornean Bay cat they’re one of the least photograph cats in the wild and as such little is known about their behaviours.
The Wildcat is the last of the Felis Lineage to diverge and is the ancestor of the domestic cat. It is believed these cats began their domestication some 9,000 years ago in the fertile Crescent with African Wild cats acting as rodent control during the rise of new agricultural techniques and storage. Whilst there are up to 19 subspecies the most accepted and written about are the European Wild Cat, the African Wild cat and the Asiatic wildcat. The wildcat has an extensive distribution and they can be found throughout much of Eurasia and Africa. Subspecies such as the Scottish Wild cat are often highly endangered due to Hybridisation where a wild cat breeds with a domestic cat producing offspring. If this were to continue they could be eventually be wiped out entirely by genetic introgression.
And that completes the Wild cat lineage.