ANSWERS QUESTIONS ABOUT CATS
March 11, 2012
University Press has done it again with another outstanding publication
in the Animal Answer Guide series. This one has all you need to know
about the world's small cats.
Wild Cats: The Animal Answer Guide" (2012) by James G. Sanderson
and Patrick Watson introduces the reader to 30 of "nature's most
perfect terrestrial predators." All cats belong to the family Felidae
(including the everyday house cat), and all are carnivores, requiring
a diet of other animals, most of which (at least for wild cats) are
separates "small" cats, which include the North American species-bobcat,
Canada lynx, and ocelot--from the seven "big" ones--lion,
tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, cheetah, and puma (aka cougar
or mountain lion). Among the largest of the cats categorized as small
is the Eurasian lynx, which averages more than 40 pounds. The smallest
is probably the rusty spotted cat of India; it seldom reaches five pounds.
Small cats can be found in regions and habitats not occupied by the
big ones. When the domestic house cat is included in the count, small
cats have an almost worldwide distribution. Though Australia has no
native wild cats of any sort, feral house cats have become a destructive
predatory force in many areas.
questions about cats are answered in the book, such as, can cats see
color? The simple answer is that they are colorblind compared to humans.
But they have excellent nighttime vision, which does not require the
differentiation of colors. Can small cats swim? Absolutely. Most do
not like to go into a stream, preferring to jump across, but if swimming
is required, they can do it. In fact, the fishing cat and flat-headed
cat of Southeast Asia will not only enter water but actually dunk its
head beneath the surface to catch fish or frogs as prey. Are small cats
social? The answer is a resounding "no" once they reach adulthood,
which comes as no surprise to anyone who has more than one house cat.
Apparently adults of all small wild cats have little to do with others
of their kind, except of course for the essential mating period.
other Animal Answer Guide books, "Small Wild Cats" is divided
into chapters, with topics ranging from behavior to reproduction to
cats in literature, all with specific questions and answers. One often-asked
question, what is the origin of the domestic cat? is not explicitly
asked or answered in the book, probably because the issue is unresolved
among biologists. The authors point out that domestic cats are most
closely related to four species of small cats that originated in Asia.
Probably the most likely house cat ancestor is the wildcat (a specific
kind of wild cat), a wide-ranging species that is a native of Asia,
Europe, and Africa. Photos of a wildcat in its natural habitat on any
of the three continents it inhabits offer persuasive evidence that a
standard alley cat is indeed a wildcat once removed. The cat named Jack
who roams our house looks like, and on occasion even acts like, a throwback
to its wilder cousin.
on ancient Egyptians' obsession with cats is fascinating. Presumably
the wildcat became inextricably entwined with human culture 10 millennia
ago with the rise of agricultural systems. Finding ways to keep a rodent-eating
species around the house and farm would have obvious advantages. We
all know that cats were deified in some Egyptian societies; photographs
in the section of the book about the unearthing of thousands of cat
mummies illustrate just how serious some folks in ancient Egypt were
about their cats.
out about the ecology, behavior, and general biology of the 29 species
of small wild cats that still exist out there in the world is fascinating.
The thought of trying to domesticate some of the others is also intriguing.
But reading about those small wild cats convinces me that none of them
would ever be able to replace the dog.
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