My cat, Yuki, is a determined hunter. I am fascinated as I watch her slowly stalking across the expanse of the living room, with her eye keenly focused on her prey, I know that the mouse, stuffed as it is, does not stand a chance of escape. Cats have always been a source of fascination for mankind throughout history. Todays cats have become one of the worlds most popular pets perfectly suited for the lifestyle of our day. But, where did the domestic cat originate and how have they survived when many other animals have become extinct?
Through genetic study, the cats of today are all thought to have a common ancestor, the African wildcat. Cats possess 38 chromosomes and roughly 20,000 genes. This genetic material gives cats some very unique characteristics that have been vital for their survival. Below, you will find a few physiological facts that all domestic cats have in common:
1. Cats can wiggle their ears and their hearing is also extremely sensitive and is among the best of any mammal, especially in the higher frequencies. These attributes help cats be excellent hunters with the ability to pinpoint sounds such as rodents even behind walls.
2. Cats eyes are about 6 times more sensitive to light than humans, giving them the ability to easily navigate in low-light situations. Cats have this ability because of a structure in their eye called a tapetum lucidem. Cats, pupils are also, slit like, to improve their ability to focus bright light and in low light their pupil fully dilates which facilitates their somewhat nocturnal lifestyle and hunting habits.
3. Cats are digitigrades. This means they walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely, because like their ancestors, they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw (almost) directly in the print of the corresponding fore paw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This fact makes them excellent hunters as well at the ability to avoid being hunted.
4. Cats tongues are covered with tiny barbs or hooks, giving the tongue a rough texture. These microscopic projections face toward the cat’s throat, and are the tools that help to groom his coat. The barbs work like a comb, catching and cleaning the cat’s fur. In the wild, these rasps tear the flesh off the bones of the big cat’s prey.
5. The thrumming, rumbling sound coming from a cat as she inhales and exhales is one of life’s great delights — and mysteries. Mother cats purr so their helpless newborn kittens can find them (and the source of dinner), and often purr while nursing. Cats purr when they are content, but cats also purr in times of stress — when they’re recovering from an injury, or at the vet’s office. Research suggests that purring can promote healing and bone growth. Clinically, we may know how cats purr, but why? They may purr simply because…they can.
Cats are amazing animals that have existed for five million years with the earliest recorded history of domestication around 9500 years ago. Cats began their relationship with humans as valued hunters, controlling rodents in our stored foods, however, today, instead of mice, they now capture our imagination and affection.