Here is an Infographic which shows you how the cat family is currently classified by the experts. It is called ‘taxonomy’. The difficulty with the classification of cats is that it is still, despite DNA testing, somewhat in flux. The task is not quite finished because I see different results. It is more settled than it was back in the day when they classified cats by their appearance but you will find different answers. My book on the wild cat species states, “There is less disagreement about the number of felid species [compared to before] with numbers ranging from 36 to 39”. That statement essentially comes from a very large number of scientists but it was published in 2002. Perhaps things have changed since then. The person who created the Infographic states that there are 41 species of cat of which 40 are wild cat species. I’ve added-to that part of the Infographic to state that the number is being debated 👍. Forty-one is an acceptable number. A number between 36-41 is probably acceptable to most scientists.
In 2017 a group of top, specialist scientists stated: “Today at least 38 species of cats are recognised throughout the world (excluding only Australasia and the polar regions), although recent morphological and molecular research suggests that there may be a few more”. The scientists are from the Cat Specialist Group: a component of the Species Survival Commission SSC of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That statement is clear: as at 2017 there was still a debate about the number of different species of cat.
Perhaps the debate is artificial as scientist make up the rules for classifying the species. The way humans classify species can be changed and not necessarily a fixed method. This is one reason why the number of different species of cat is somewhere between 36-41.
Mel and Fiona Sunquist, the authors of the book that I use: Wild Cats of the World, state that some of the confusion about classifying the cats arises because they “make their living in a similar fashion”. They all stalk, pounce and rush to kill their prey animals. Fundamentally, they all have the same anatomy. Although their body size varies tremendously from the smallest cat in the world, the rusty-spotted cat to the largest which is the Siberian tiger. They have the largest range in body size among the Carnivora. Mel and Fiona Sunquist followed the taxonomy laid out by Wozencraft which is used by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the Wildcat Status Survey and Conservation Plan.
Although I would expect that since they published their book in 2002, the expanding field of molecular genetics has possibly altered their findings very slightly. A greater understanding of differences in the structures or expression of DNA molecules is certainly helping to resolve the problem of “felid phylogeny”, which is the history of the evolution of species.
It may be worth stating, again, that all the cat breeds e.g., cats such as the Maine Coon and British Shorthair, are all one species of cat. They all fall under the category of ‘domestic cat’.
I hope you find the Infographic useful.
BELOW ARE SOME MORE ARTICLES ON TAXONOMY:
Cats, dogs, horses and cattle are able to crossbreed but birds, fish and reptiles seemingly cannot. Why?