Explaining the evolution (creation) of the dense and long coat of Pallas’s cat (manul)

Pallas’s cat (Latin, scientific name: Otocolobus manul) is considered to have the thickest coat of all the cat species. The obvious conclusion is that this small and charming-looking wild cat species needs a thick coat because they live in a very cold and harsh habitat. I’m told that the coat is so dense that there are 9,000 hairs per square centimetre but I not sure whether that’s more than normal because domestic cats have very dense coach as well πŸ™‚ .

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It’s probably also fair to say that the Pallas’s cat has the longest fur of all the cat species except for the selectively bred Persian which has fur which is too long I would argue. That is another story.

Natural selection created the Pallas's cat's long and dense coat
Natural selection created the Pallas’s cat’s long and dense coat. Image: MikeB
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The process of natural selection working on Palla’s cat’s coat

The question here really is how did Pallas’s cat develop this super thick coat and the answer explains how evolution works which is natural selection as espoused by Charles Darwin in his work Origin of the Species (the foundation of evolutionary biology).

The first point to make is that Pallas’s cat did NOT adapt to the cold climate in which they live. “Instead, those individuals that are best adapted produce more offspring. These offspring are more likely to be born well-adapted, because at least one parent was well adapted to the local environment” – James Sanderson and Patrick Watson in Small Wild Cats.

And because they are well adapted, they survive better than those cats who are less well adapted (with shorter coats) and therefore they produce more offspring than the other group of cats who are more likely to perish and therefore fail to produce offspring. And bit by bit there are more Pallas’s cats with long fur than those with shorter fur and eventually they all have long fur because the entire population is fully evolved to cope with the harsh climate.

The whole evolutionary process kicks off because a genetic mutation occurs in one cat. This mutation (defect) produces a coat which is a bit longer than is normal for this cat species. It might also be denser. And this individual cat produces a litter of cubs, half of which have denser and longer fur. They survive better than the general population of Pallas’s cats and therefore the offspring produce more offspring who also have longer and denser fur and so over many thousands of years, even millions of years, you end up with ALL Pallas’s cats possessing long and dense fur.

That is how natural selection works. It is not the fact that individual cat responds to the cold climate to produce longer fur. The whole process, as mentioned, starts off with a genetic mutation; if you like a defect in the reproductive, copying process of the genes and chromosomes. Sometimes these defects are beneficial and when they are, thanks to natural selection, they stay around and alter the particular species’ anatomy forever.

In fact, in this way you can end up with entirely different species and it’s why among the cat family there are 8 cat lineages of 36 different cat species. These eight lineages started off from one cat species but then they branched out into eight different types of cat through natural selection and the process was the same as described.

Here is a diagrammatic representation of the eight lineages.

Domestic cat is one cat species
Domestic cat is one cat species. Source: Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists.

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