Wild cats (felidae) include both big cats and small wild cats. Members of the felidae family are called felids. Wild cats first appeared 25 million years ago during the Oligocene period, when tropical forests decreased in size and the grasslands around the planet expanded. The Oligocene was also a time when the ecosystems we are familiar with today began to emerge.
All wild cats are carnivores (meat eaters), which means they get their energy and nutrition from animal meat and organs.
More than 40 species of felids have been identified. They are considered native to all of the continents except Australia and Antarctica. Recent research however, has shown that all felids have the same Asian ancestry. They moved into other regions by migrating across the land that connected the continents. The “land bridges” were created by both the creation of new land and receding sea levels that have occurred at various points in time. For example, Asia and North America were once connected by the Bering land bridge, which was located near the Bearing Strait during the Pleistocene ice ages. The bridge was nearly 1,000 miles wide at its widest point. Another land bridge that facilitated wild cat migration was the Isthmus of Panama.
There were approximately 10 migrations that resulted in the current distributions of wild cats. It is believed that the cats travelled around the globe to places where there was less competition for food. New wild cat species developed when the land bridges disappeared and isolated the cats.
The big cats (lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards) began appearing 6.4 million years ago, followed by smaller wild cats such as the Asian golden cat, bay cat, serval, caracal, marbled cat and African golden cat.
Most wild cats, excluding the African lion and cheetahs, lead a solitary life. They are generally nocturnal (wild cats have excellent night vision), and live in many diverse habitats, including forests, mountains and deserts.
The largest wild cats are tigers, who can grow to almost 12 feet tall and weigh more than 65o lbs. The black-footed cat, frequently referred to as the smallest wild cat, is only 14 to 16 inches in length. Wild cats typically have large eyes.
The wild cat’s fur is extremely varied. Common fur colors include light brown, golden brown and reddish brown. There are also wild cats with white and black fur. Most fur is either spotted, striped or marked with rosettes.