Feline animals have come a long way to the form they are found in the world today. How did felines evolve? We answer this question below.
Contrary to appearances, archetypes of big cats they showed no signs that later evolutionary paths would lead this family to super-predators, capable of preying on large herbivorous mammals. The fact that felines have found their way to the top of the food chain is mainly due to climate change, which is drastically changing the environment.
To begin with, it should be explained that: what are cats anyway?† This term refers to a family belonging to the prey order in the mammalian class. Today they are classified into 40 species, subdivided into types. They are found on almost all continents and in their natural habitat they are usually the apex predators. The above is due to the fact that we are talking about: hypermeats, i.e. species that eat only meat† But before these predators reached the top of the food pyramid, they had a long way to go.
The ancestor of today’s cats developed at the beginning of the Oligocene and Miocene (25-16 million years ago). I’m talking about the gender proailurusin which the typical species is distinguished Proailurus lemanensis† The animal lived in the areas of present-day Germany, Spain, Mongolia and Nebraska. In shape and size, he could resemble a modern domestic cat. Like the present species, it had forward-facing eyes that gave it stereoscopic vision. It also had a flattened snout.
However, this is where the similarities end. proailurus it was equipped with molars, but there were no tusks in its jaw – one of the greatest hunting attributes of felines. In terms of anatomy, it was much closer to today’s weasels, which seems to suggest that the felines and the feline had a common ancestor.
In rocks younger than those where the fossils were found proailurus, feline tracks are extremely bad. The ‘dry period’ in question lasted several million years. Scientists call it “the cat’s gap”. There are several theories about this condition, but the exact cause is never known.
About 15 million years ago, significant climate change took place. The climate became arid and the areas previously covered with dense forests turned into steppes and savannas. This environment was favorable for large herbivores that could travel long distances. The game got bigger and so evolutionary changes couldn’t evade predators.
One of the first big cats was homotherium – a predator resembling a lion in size, but equipped with a short tail like a lynx. The animal in question represented the mahajrodon family, the so-called saber-toothed cats, which were characterized by teeth much longer than those of today’s felines. There were also other big cats in the same ecosystems, including cheetahs, lions and leopards (the oldest fossils from Africa date back about 3.5 million years).
However, it must be clearly emphasized that the felines of the time have not yet reached their evolutionary peak. This would only happen with the arrival of the Pleistocene Ice Age. Init was then that the genus developed smilodoncommonly referred to as the saber-toothed tiger.
The oldest fossils of such representatives are 2.5 million years old. It is worth noting that today there are three species that are part of the genus smilodon† The oldest is smilodon graciliswho lived in the period from 2.5 million to 50 thousand. years ago. According to paleontologists, a large predator could reach a mass of up to 100 kg.
He was even bigger smilodon fatalis, living in the period from 1.5 million to 10 thousand. years ago. This animal can weigh 280 kg. However, the largest cat of its kind was: Smilodon Populator, living in the period from 1.5 million to 10 thousand. years ago. This cat reached a weight of up to 400 kg. It is worth noting that the largest and probably the most dangerous saber-toothed tiger still lived 10 thousand. years ago. This means that most likely our ancestors often had to deal with him.
For a long time, saber-toothed cats functioned alongside other big cats. However, it should be noted that their anatomy was completely different. Their figure was more like a bear† They did not hunt their prey, but hunted from an ambush. Interestingly, scientists believe their jaws were weaker than those of modern big cats. However, this does not change the fact that today’s species are derived from individuals that lived many millions of years ago. We describe some of the most interesting below.
primogenitor leopard Most likely, he started the line of big cats that appeared on our planet about 6.4 million years ago. Currently, species of this genus live in Asia and Africa. Their natural habitat is dense forests, but they can also be found in savannas and mountainous areas. Leopards are 100 to 150 cm long and weigh up to 90 kg. It is worth emphasizing that we still know very little about the habits of this cat. Leopards are so vigilant that they are difficult to track, even in sanctuaries.
From the same line comes lAfrican ew† The oldest fossils of this cat’s lineage are 3.5 million years old. In the late Pleistocene, the early forms of this animal were the most common land mammals living in the Americas, Eurasia and Africa. Today, lions are found only in Africa (with the exception of the Asiatic lion, which is rare in India). An adult male is up to 250 cm long and can weigh up to 280 kg. Interestingly, lions are the only felines that live in family groups.
It may seem contemporary tigers are related to the saber-toothed tigers. In fact, the evolution of both species is several million years apart. The most numerous subspecies of this cat is Bengal tigerwhose wild population is estimated to be about 1700-1900 individuals. It occurs on the Indochina Peninsula, where it lives in tropical forests, swamps and vast meadows. Reaches a length of up to 310 cm and weighs up to 325 kg.