All of the world’s approximate 600 million domesticated cats belonging to approximately 40 different breeds are descendants of the Near Eastern Wildcat, also known as the African Wildcat or Felis Silvestris Libyca.

The 37 species of cats living today belong to the family Felidae and are divided into three main subfamilies: Panthera, Acinonychinae and Felinae. The cat subfamily Panthera originated around 5 million years ago and includes cats that roar: lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars; while the subfamily Acinonychinae only includes cheetahs. The final subfamily, Felinae, comprises the majority of cats, including the domestic, and appeared about 1 million years ago. Each cat has two names: the first for the genus and the second its own. For example, in the name Felis Catus, Felis is for the group genus and Catus is the individual’s name, meaning Domestic.


Wildcat (Felis silvestris) range map. Felis Silvestris Libyca

Wildcat (Felis silvestris) range map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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  1. This is interesting, but my own cat looks a lot like a European wild cat. Are we sure that this is the only ancestor of our cats, rather than different types of wild cats?

    • LA Vocelle says

      Hi Claudia,
      Thanks for your question. Just as the ancestors of humans have been traced to seven women through their mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed from mother to child), all the world’s small cats belonging to the genus Felis have been found to be descended from just five females (Driscoll et al, 2007). The five subspecies descended from the original five matriarchs are: the Chinese Desert cat, the European, South African, Central Asian, and the Near Eastern Wildcats. So yes, your cat is probably descended from the European wildcat.

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