Wild cats first appeared on earth 25 million years ago during the Oligocene epoch when tropical forests decreased in size, grasslands expanded and the ecosystems we are familiar with today began to emerge.
In the beginning, wild cats only existed in Asia. As time went on they migrated to other parts of the world using the land that connected the continents as bridges.
There were approximately 10 migrations that resulted in the current distribution of wild cats. It is believed that the cats traveled 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.
Big cats like 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.
Today more than 40 species of wild cats have been identified. They are considered native to all of the continents except Australia and Antarctica. You can find wild cats living in many diverse habitats, including forests, mountains and deserts.
All wild cats are carnivores, which means they get their energy and nutrition from animal meat and organs.
Wild Cat Classification
Wild cats are members of the Felidae family of cats. A member of the Felidae family is also known as a felid.
Lions, tigers, jaguars, snow leopards, clouded leopards and leopards belong to the Pantherinae, a Felidae subfamily
The remaining wild cat species belong to another Felidae subfamily called Felinae.
Saber-toothed cats, an extinct group of wild cats, belonged to a third Pantherinae subfamily called Machairodontinae.
There is also a fourth subfamily – Proailurinae. There is only one member of this group, a prehistoric small wild cat.
Wild Cat Appearance & Behavior
Tigers are the largest of all the wild cats. They can grow almost 12 feet tall and weigh more than 650 lbs. The smallest wild cat, the black-footed cat, is only 14 to 16 inches in length.
Wild cats have different types of fur depending on the species. Common fur colors include light brown, golden brown and reddish-brown. There are also wild cats with white and black fur. The fur is typically spotted, striped or marked with rosettes (a rose-shaped patch of color). The fur can vary in thickness depending on where the wild cat lives. Cats inhabiting colder climates usually have heavier fur.
All wild cats can growl, snarl, spit, mew and hiss. Lions, leopards, tigers and jaguars also roar, and snow leopards, clouded leopards, tigers and jaguars snort. Small wild cats gurgle and wah-wah (a deep, short vocalization). Many wild cats, and possibly even all wild cats, purr.
Wild cats also have the ability to lengthen or extend their claws (protractible claws). With some species like the cheetah, the claws can be seen even when the cat is relaxed or resting.
Excluding lions and cheetahs, most wild cats lead a solitary life. Many are active primarily at night. They generally have excellent night vision, sensitive ears and an acute sense of smell.