"A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on safari in southern Africa. One
of the greatest thrills was going out at night looking for predators on the
prowl: lions, leopards, hyenas.
As we drove through the darkness, though, our spotlight occasionally lit up a
smaller hunter – a slender, tawny feline, faintly spotted or striped. The glare
would catch the small cat for a moment before it darted back into the shadows.
Based on its size and appearance, I initially presumed it was someone’s pet
inexplicably out in the bush. But further scrutiny revealed distinctive
features: legs slightly longer than those of most domestic cats, and a striking
black-tipped tail. Still, if you saw one from your kitchen window, your first
thought would be “Look at that beautiful cat in the backyard,” not “How’d that
African wildcat get to New Jersey?”
As an evolutionary biologist, I’ve spent my career studying how species adapt
to their environment. My research has been reptile-focused, investigating the
workings of natural selection on lizards.
Yet, I’ve always loved and been fascinated by felines, ever since we adopted a
shelter cat when I was 5 years old. And the more I’ve thought about those
African wildcats, the more I’ve marveled at their evolutionary success. The
species’ claim to fame is simple: The African wildcat is the ancestor of our
beloved household pets. And despite changing very little, their descendants
have become among the world’s two most popular companion animals. (Numbers are
fuzzy, but the global population of cats and dogs approaches a billion for
Clearly, the few evolutionary changes the domestic cat has made have been the
right ones to wangle their way into people’s hearts and homes. How did they do
it? I explored this question in my book “The Cat’s Meow: How Cats Evolved from
the Savanna to Your Sofa.”"
Via Christoph S.
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*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics