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Temporal range: Upper Oligocene – Recent
Panthera tigris tigris edited2.jpg
Tiger, the largest feline found in nature.
Scientific classification



Felidae is a family of mammals, in the order Carnivora. Animals that belong to Felidae are called felids.

The family is of quite recent origin: the first fossils are from the Oligocene, 25 million years ago (mya). There are 41 living species, including the domestic cat, and they are monophyletic: all descended from the same ancestor.[1]

Characteristics[change | change source]

Felids tend to have lithe and flexible bodies with muscular limbs. In most species, the tail is a third or a half the length of the body, with some exceptions (the bobcat and margay). The limbs are digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes. The paws have three soft toe pads and retractible claws (usually).[1] The tongue of felids is covered with horny papillae, which rasp meat from prey and aid in grooming.

Classification[change | change source]

Domestic cat purring and meowing
Lion roaring

The Felidae has three subfamilies:

More examples of felines are the big cats – the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, clouded leopard, puma, and cheetah - and other wild cats, for example the lynx, caracal, and bobcat. All felines, also the small pet cat, are predators that can hunt many animals.

Evolution[change | change source]

The felids evolved in Asia and spread across continents by crossing land bridges. DNA sequence analysis shows that ancient cats evolved into eight main lines. There were at least 10 migrations (in both directions) from continent to continent via the Bering land bridge and Isthmus of Panama. The Panthera genus is the oldest and the Felis genus is the youngest. 60 percent of the modern species of cats developed within the last million years.[2]

The felids' closest relatives are the linsangs,[3] and at one remove the group of civets, hyenas, mongooses, and Madagascar carnivores,[4] with whom they share the Suborder Feliformia. All felid species share a genetic anomaly that prevents them from tasting sweetness.[5]

Genetic classification[change | change source]

Genetic research has provided a basis for a more concise classification for the living members of the cat family based on genotypical groupings.[1][6][7] Specifically, eight genetic lineages have been identified:[8]

The last four lineages (5, 6, 7, 8) are more related to each other than to any of the first four (1, 2, 3, 4), and so form a clade within the Felinae subfamily of family Felidae.

Taxonomy[change | change source]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wozencraft, W. Christopher 2005. Order Carnivora. In Wilson, Don E., and Reeder, DeeAnn M. eds. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. 3rd ed, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 2 vols. pp. 532–548 ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0
  2. Mott, Maryann (2006-01-11). "Cats climb new family tree". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2006-07-15.
  3. Eizirik E. et al 2010. Pattern and timing of the diversification of the mammalian order Carnivora inferred from multiple nuclear gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 56: 49-63. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.01.033
  4. Gaubert P. & Veron G. 2003. Exhaustive sample set among Viverridae reveals the sister-group of felids: the linsangs as a case of extreme morphological convergence within Feliformia. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B 270 (1532): 2523–30. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2521
  5. Xia, Li; et al. (July 2005). "Pseudogenization of a sweet-receptor gene accounts for cats' indifference toward sugar". Public Library of Science. 1 (1): e3. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0010003. PMC 1183522. PMID 16103917. Retrieved 2008-06-30.
  6. Johnson WE, Eizirik E, Pecon-Slattery J; et al. (January 2006). "The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment". Science. 311 (5757): 73–7. doi:10.1126/science.1122277. PMID 16400146.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. O'Brien SJ, Johnson WE (2005). "Big cat genomics". Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 6 (1): 407–29. doi:10.1146/annurev.genom.6.080604.162151. PMID 16124868.
  8. Johnson, W. E.; & O'Brien S. J. (1997). Phylogenetic reconstruction of the Felidae using 16S rRNA and NADH-5 mitochondrial genes. J Mol Evol (1997) 44: S98-116. Retrieved on 2009-11-08 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9071018?dopt=Abstract.