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Oligocene – Present, 25–0 Ma
|Clockwise from top left: tiger (Panthera tigris), Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis), cougar (Puma concolor), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), wildcat (Felis silvestris), serval (Leptailurus serval), caracal (Caracal caracal) and ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).|
Fischer von Waldheim, 1817
Felidae is the family of cats. A member of this family is also called a felid.
Living cats belong to the subfamilies:
Cats are obligate carnivores; they must consume meat to survive. They are sometimes referred to as hypercarnivores because of the very large proportion of protein they require in their diet, much more than most other mammals. Of the 13 terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, they are the strictest carnivores.
The first cats emerged during the Oligocene, about 25 million years ago. In prehistoric times, there was a third subfamily, the Machairodontinae, which included the saber-toothed cats, such as the Smilodon. Other superficially cat-like mammals, such as the metatherians Thylacosmilus and Thylacoleo, or the Barbourofelidae and Nimravidae, are not included in Felidae despite superficial similarities.
The 42 known cat species (41 if the Iriomote cat is considered to be only a subspecies of the Leopard cat) in the world today are all descended from a common ancestor. Cats originated in Asia and spread across continents by crossing land bridges. Testing of and nuclear DNA revealed that the ancient cats evolved into eight main lineages that diverged in the course of at least 10 migrations (in both directions) from continent to continent via the Bering land bridge and the Isthmus of Panama, with the Panthera genus being the oldest and the Felis genus being the youngest. About 60% of the modern cat species are estimated to have developed within the last million years.
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