I explain the reason why the Andean cat has a grey/brown coat and the sand cat has a sandy coat

Explaining the Andean cat's dense, tabby, greyish brown coat and the sand cat's lightly patterned sandy coat
Look how the coat colours and patterns nicely match the backgrounds. Image: MikeB using Canva. Andean cat credit: Andean mountain cat wearing a radio collar. His name is Jacobo. Photo copyright J. Reppuccini AGA
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Natural selection and selection pressures over millions of years of evolution is the reason why the Andean mountain cat has a predominantly grey coat while the sand cat has a sandy-coloured, even coat. These small wild cats illustrate how evolution works. The process is not about cats consciously adapting to the habitat where they live. It is about chance and plenty of time.

The very slow and persistent evolutionary process starts with a spontaneous genetic mutation which affects the colour of the coat by affecting the production of melanin inserted into the hair strands by the melanocytes in the skin. And by chance this genetic mutation (a defect in copying genes and chromosomes) proves beneficial to the cat species in terms of survival.

So, taking the Andean cat, the mutation would have made the coat a little greyer which proved beneficial as this attractive small wild cat lives in the high Andes. This is a windswept and rocky environment and rocks are a mottled grey against the browner earth.

The Andean cat has medium-long fur and an exceptionally dense, grey/brown coat with a tabby pattern all of which provides excellent camouflage and warmth for the cat in the habitat where they live.

This is how nature works. Through evolution the Andean cat’s appearance noticeably matches the surrounding landscape in which it lives.

In stark contrast the same evolutionary process has occured for the sand cat. The same process applies to all the cats in the Felidae family. The important point is that these cats did not adapt to their habitat. Rather by chance they benefited from a genetic mutation which proved useful.

The mutation occured randomly. Mutations that assist in survival stick around. They persist as the offspring of the cats carrying this mutation survive more successfully than cats that don’t have this mutation. Thus more cats with this genetic mutation are born to the extent where, eventually, all cats of these species have a different coat colour and pattern which is customised for the habitat in which they find themselves.

The sand cat is the only true desert cat. The coat is mainly lightly patterned and is unsurprisingly sand coloured. That’s evolution but it takes millions of years for random, spontaneous genetic mutations to become ‘fixed’ and part of the genotype of the cat species concerned.

There will be other mutations that have occured but the cats carrying these genotypes would have died out and be lost to history as they would have been detrimental to the species’ survival.

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