The evolution of the domestic cat

Evolution has given the cat a camouflaged coat so that it is hidden from predators. In the wild, the cats natural instinct is to sleep by day and hunt under cover of darkness. A visit to the zoo will confirm just how successful this camouflage has been: lions, living in dry regions with sparse vegetation, have adopted a sandy colour to their coat; snow leopard are pale to blend with their snowy environment; jungle cats are usually spotted or striped, echoing the dappled light that illuminates the forest floor. Just as clever is the coat of the domestic tortoiseshell cat – for a female rearing her young, a camouflaged coat is important, and a tortie pattern makes her almost indistinguishable from the background in a variety of locations. The tortoiseshell gene is sex-linked for this purpose, occurring usually only in female cats. As cats tend to sleep by day, they have evolved another mechanism as well as coat colour to defend themselves, and this can still be seen in the domestic cat today. Cats have very little fur between the top of their eyes and their ears. Look at the cat when it is asleep, and the bald area gives the impression of open eyes, so that any predator will think the cat is wide awake, on guard and ready to attack. It is a simple, but effective, form of protection. The length and type of fur depends on which part of the world the cat originates from. The Scottish Wild Cat has a thick, dense coat which keeps it warm and dry in the bleakest of Scottish winters. Persians and Angoras, native to the upland regions of Iran and Turkey, developed long coats for the same reason; mountainous regions get cold at night and in the winter, and the extra long coat has an insulating effect. Pale-coated Siamese have a fine silky texture to their coat allowing them to cool rapidly when the weather is hot. Russian Blues, originally thought to have come from Archangel, have a curious ‘double’ coat, to keep them warm in Baltic climates. Cats have been imported and exported for many decades and so do not always end up living in a climate suited to their type of fur. It is for this reason that owners of longhaired cats in tropical regions sometimes clip the long fur down during the hotter parts of the year, and that varieties from the Far East living in cooler areas benefit from additional heating during the cold searsons.