Those of us who share our homes with cats are truly blessed. We are able to marvel not only at their beauty and grace, but at their uncanny resemblance to their bigger predatory cousins; the wild big cats. We are both enthralled and delighted while watching our miniature carnivores lying in wait and then start stalking sunbeams and little pieces of papers; their hind ends swaying ever so slowly, ears erect, whiskers bristling as they wait for the perfect opportunity to pounce on and capture them. Their predatory instincts and behavior are exactly like the hunting action of lions, tigers and other big cats.
According to an article recently published on the Animal Rescue Site, it was over 10 million years ago that the tiger deviated from what we all now recognize as our domesticated kitties.
Incredibly it’s only recent research which has proven that the only difference between our “tamed” housecats and the big wild cats, such as snow leopards, lions, tigers and jaguars, is a genetic mutation permitting these wild undomesticated felines to grow much larger in stature; permitting them to feast on bigger animals and allow snow leopards to adapt to the rigors of the high altitudes in which they reside.
Jong Bhak, a geneticist at the Personal Genomics Institute in South Korea said,
“In addition, several genes were altered in metabolic pathways associated with protein digestion and metabolism, or how the body uses fuel like food to power cells. Those changes, which evolved over tens of millions of years, likely enable the majestic felines to digest and rely solely on meat. Big cats also have several mutations that make for powerful, fast-acting muscles — a necessity when chasing down prey.”
“The Tiger in the House” written by felineophile Carl Van Vechten was published in 1922 by A. A. Knopf. It is not only extraordinarily well written and filled with gorgeous photographs, it makes for a fascinating read. But what makes this book even more mysterious is its title is uncannily prophetic.
The reason I refer to this book as “prophetic” is that it wasn’t until April 1953 when James Watson and Francis Crick presented their scientific paper on the structure of the DNA-helix, (the molecule that carries genetic information from generation to generation was presented by James Watson and Francis Crick.
In 1962, nine years later, they both shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with another leading scientist, for solving one of the most important biological riddles.
But way back in 1922 before DNA was a household word, just the title of Van Vechten’s book demonstrated his keen observation of the domesticated kitty and his understanding of the species. Unfortunately many of these housecats are very unceremoniously and disrespectfully named “Fluffy”. I wonder what these cats would be named if their owners truly knew about their cat’s regal lineage.
Since our magnificent, charming, intelligent and affectionate diminutive big cats share 95% of their genes with their bigger brothers and sisters, we are indeed honored to have these remarkable animals allow us to share our homes and beds with them. After all is there anything more soothing and sleep inducing that a purring kitty curled up with us on a chilly winter’s night?
What do you think? Do tell us in a comment.
Photo credit (tiger): Flickr User RomanS