Similarity of all cat species indicates evolution has attained perfection

The similarity of all cat species from the modest domestic cat to the massive Siberian tiger, in terms of their anatomy and behaviour, indicates that through eons of evolution, this species of predator has been perfected. There is no more work for evolution to do. This is the thought of an evolutionary biologist, Anjali Goswami, who thinks that cats are perfect from a scientific standpoint; from an evolutionary standpoint.

Cats are perfectly evolved
Cats are perfectly evolved. Image: MikeB
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We know that evolution works by random genetic mutations causing changes to a species of animal which either help the animal to survive or the mutations work in the opposite direction. And over millions of years an animal becomes gradually refined through these random evolutionary jumps to the point, in the case of the cat, of perfection in terms of being a top predator.

Anjali Goswami is an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Her belief – and she isn’t alone in this – is that cats are “quintessential products of evolution” and that evolution has stopped at a pinnacle. If evolution can no longer refine a species then from an evolutionary standpoint the species is perfect.

She compares cats with other species of animal in which you will find lots of variation. For example, bears are in her words “anti-cats”. There are a few species of bear and they do ‘different things’ in her words. The giant panda for example is super specialised in basically eating only bamboo. In complete contrast polar bears are hyper-carnivorous marine mammals. And in between you have the omnivorous black bears and grizzlies although grizzlies are primarily herbivorous.

But cats do one thing: they attack and eat animals. They are hyper-carnivores or obligate carnivores. And in the words of Anjali Goswami, “It doesn’t matter whether they are tiny Bengal cats or gigantic lions or tigers; they are going to basically look the same.”

She admits that she couldn’t tell the difference between a tiger and lion skull because they look identical with very small differences.

“Cats have nailed one thing so well [being predators] that they all do it and just come up with slightly different sizes. That’s why they’re perfect evolutionarily. They don’t need variation. They might get bigger or smaller, but they don’t change anything else, because they are just right otherwise. They are not jacks of all trades; they are masters of one.”

Anjali Goswami

Of course, you have got to believe in evolution and there are still people who believe in the creation of the world by a God. But I’m afraid they are wrong; with the greatest of respect.

Anjali Goswami beliefs are sound. But for dogs, you have got to factor in a huge amount of artificial selection as opposed to natural selection i.e. evolution. There are many more dog breeds than there are cat breeds and artificial selection i.e. selective breeding has taken place far more widely among domestic dogs and domestic cats. This completely undermines the concept of evolution through natural selection. And therefore, you can’t easily compare dogs and cats in the context of Anjali Goswami’s arguments. Or it is more difficult to do so.

And a final point is that she is making the presumption that the cat has, as mentioned, reached a pinnacle of evolution and will no longer evolve over the forthcoming millions of years. She might be wrong on that.

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

The evolution of cats is a fascinating journey. Let’s explore it:

  1. Common Ancestor: All 37 recognized cat species within the Felidae family evolved from a common ancestor, which likely lived in Asia around 10-12 million years ago. This ancestor had anatomical features like a rounded head and skeletal structure.
  2. Early Felids: The first feline-like mammal, called Proailurus, emerged about 30 million years ago. True cat species evolved from this small civet-like predator. These early cats appeared during the early Pliocene Epoch (around 5.3 to 3.6 million years ago) and have remained remarkably similar over time.
  3. Genomic Insights: Recent research analyzed the complete genomes of five cat species, including domestic cats, lions, and tigers. It revealed that cats have relatively few complex genetic variations compared to other mammals. The frequency of segmental duplications (similar DNA sections) contributes to this stability. Additionally, a repetitive DNA element called DXZ4 influences speciation. Cats also exhibit variation in olfactory genes, reflecting their diverse needs – from hunting to domestic life.

In summary, cats have evolved as skilled predators with keen senses, and their genetic makeup holds intriguing secrets about their adaptations and differences.

Scientific American interviewed Goswami and this post comes from that interview.

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