Recently, a tumblr post went viral for sharing information on how humans domesticated cats.
Now, we all know humans and dogs formed a mutually beneficial bond thousands of years ago. Cats? Yep, them too!
The post introduces the topic with “CATS” written as the first line:
let’s talk about housecats and how f*cking weird they are evolutionarily/anthropologically
like who thought it was a good idea to have tiny malicious predators in our homes anyways????? (not us actually)
are they even domesticated????!!!?? (yes) do they even feel LOVE???????!!? (yes)
LET’S LEARN ABOUT CATS“
They’re right. Cats are complicated. What other animal can absolutely adore us and simultaneously plot our demise?
Part one addresses “what circle of hell cats are from.” And the answer is really fascinating.
Cats are the first of TWO independent, predatory animals to be domesticated. The second? Ferrets. It is believed cats were domesticated by Egyptians 3,000 years ago.
However, the author believes domestication happened earlier:
“I’m firmly in the molecular evidence camp myself, which says cats were probably domesticated around 10,000 years ago when humans first figured out how to farm and store crops. What do you get when you store lots of grain?“
Part two gets into what we all know: cats use us for their advantage.
“Humans didn’t grab cats and make them start hunting mice. In fact, that would be incredibly difficult, as wildcats are extremely shy. Cats simply heard the rodents squeaking around in whatever the ancient version of a silo was and went after them. And the humans certainly had no reason to discourage them.”
As the mutually beneficial situation grew, cats started to let their guards down around humans.
“Flight distance refers to the distance an animal is willing to let you approach it before it flees. African wildcats today have a pretty massive flight distance- you are extremely lucky if you see one before it spots you and jets. Those first cats attacking the mice in human granaries would have had a big disadvantage if they were running every time they spotted a human within thirty feet. So, they adapted.“
“Their flight distance shrank from generation until eventually they were able to tolerate humans within feet of them. Think of the behavior of squirrels in suburban areas. They aren’t going to let you pick them up, exactly… but they’re definitely not afraid of you.“
The Egyptians — who famously adored cats — were likely responsible for domesticating felines and breeding them to be the pets we know today.
“This new closeness would only be possible if the Egyptians had started taking kittens from semi-domesticated cats and raising them to become accustomed to human contact. Thus, cats underwent the final stages of their domestication.“
That doesn’t mean it didn’t take mad work. In part three, the author breaks down how the “miracle” happened.
“…every species of domestic animal still has a sensitive period and in fact so do human infants so the reasoning behind that one is a little silly. However it is a very good point that the cat’s sensitive period is pretty extreme compared to other pets’ (like dogs) and a cat that has never been socialized is basically never going to be comfortable around humans even if brought into a home.”
Even feral cats are considered domesticated, even if it seems strange. The author explains why:
“Some time ago there was an experiment where researchers tagged both feral cats and wildcats living in the same area in Africa near a city with GPS trackers. They found a LARGE difference in behaviors. The feral cats would cluster together around dumpsters for scraps of food at night. The wildcats would NOT and always maintained a large distance away from one another and human habitation.“
“This suggests that regardless of whether or not there is human contact during the sensitive period (this city did not have a culture of keeping cats as pets and the feral cats were treated as pests) feral cats are willing to cluster together- and wildcats, when living their natural lives, are not.“
Even more interesting is that wildcats only meow as kittens!
“This retention of a juvenile trait is known as neoteny and it’s pretty common among domestic animals, particularly pets. You want humans to love you and care for you? BE A BABY FOREVER … There is one last slightly horrifying thing about cat meows. Researchers have detected a dissonance in some cries, mainly food-getting ones, that is very similar to another cry — the cry of a human baby. Meaning that over time cat meows have evolved to sound like human babies crying so that we physiologically cannot ignore them.”
That is actually pretty damn hilarious. And incredible.
Part four reminds us that cats are literally tiny lions.
“OKAY THE REALLY COOL THING is that lions are in the genus Panthera, right? And alllll the way at the other end of the kitty spectrum is the Felis genus will all the itty cats like domestic cats. Very separated. And yet, lions show many of the exact same social behaviors that domestic cats do.”
“Yep, rubbing/headbutting, rolling, vocalizing more (in this case rumbling and roaring instead of meowing), even more playful behavior… lions do these with other members of their pride to maintain social bonds. And these behaviors REAPPEARED in wildcats when they were domesticated.“
The post, which has five parts — the fifth section is a summary and is very, very long (read the entire post here) — cites all sources at the bottom, including links where people can research more on this interesting topic. We highly recommend taking the time to read the entire post, for the sake of at least having a stellar icebreaker.