Categories: taxonomy

What does felis catus mean?

What does felis catus mean? I’ll try and break this Latin phrase down to its components and provide translations on the way. An alternative to felis catus is felis silvestris catus (the trinomial name). They are both Latin versions of the English ‘domestic cat’. There is some repetition below but I have retained it as it helps I feel.

Photo: Pinterest


Felis is a derivative of fēlis or fēlēs meaning cat in English. Silvestris means ‘wild’ and catus means ‘cunning, crafty and sly, intelligent and clever’.

I suppose therefore that felis catus means ‘crafty cat’ to describe the domestic cat.

Classification of species

The first point to make is that felis catus is the taxonomic classification for the domestic cat. Scientists always use Latin when classifying the world’s species. That’s why when discussing the domestic cat some people refer to the Latin name for this species: Felis catus.

The classification of the family of cats is as follows:

  • Family: Felidae (family of all cats)
  • Subfamily: Felinae
  • Genus: Felis
  • Species: Felis silvestris (wild cat)
  • Subspecies: Felis silvestris catus (domestic cat)


Catus is the Latin word for cat. Felis silvestris is the Latin for the wildcat, a mammal species and the wild can forbear of the domestic cat.

As mentioned the domestic cat is classified as Felis silvestris catus or Felis catus. You can see that ‘silvestris‘ is sometimes included. Sylvestris is a Latin word meaning of the forest, or not domesticated or tamed, or wild and not cultivated, which is why Felis silvestris is the Latin name for the wild cat. By wild cat I don’t mean all wild cats but the specific species called the wildcat (e.g. North African wildcat – Felis silvestris lybica). ‘Wildcat’ can be written ‘wildcat’ or ‘wild cat’. I prefer the former for describing this species of cat.


Felis is the scientific name for the genus (a taxonomic rank – a step in the classification – meaning a race or group of animals) that contains all the species of small cats.

Dr Morris speculates as to the derivation of the word ‘felis‘. ‘Fe‘ means to bear young which would be a reference to the cats fecundity (fertility and breeding success). Interestingly the word ‘fecund’ and ‘foetus’ come from the same root. An alternative derivation is ‘fell‘ which refers to the cat’s ability in felling mice (bringing them down).

The common English word ‘feline’ comes from ‘felis‘.

P.S. one online Latin to English translators, translate ‘felis‘ as meaning ‘football’! Not bad during the 2018 Football World Cup. Wiktionary says that origin of the word ‘felis‘ is the Latin fēlis or fēlēs meaning cat. Google translate cannot translate these Latin words. (a Latin translator site) translates fēlēs as meaning cat in English.


Latin for cunning, crafty, intelligent, knowing, clever, shrewd, wise, prudent, circumspect.

Sources: various (about 6 in all) including Cat World, Wild Cats of the World, IUCN Red List, online Latin dictionaries and translators and Wikipedia and Wiktionary.

Note: By convention Latin is written in italics.

I would be pleased if any suitably qualified visitor could add or amend this information.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I am 70-years-of-age at 2019. For 14 years before I retired at 57, I worked as a solicitor in general law specialising in family law. Before that I worked in a number of different jobs including professional photography. I have a longstanding girlfriend, Michelle. We like to walk in Richmond Park which is near my home because I love nature and the landscape (as well as cats and all animals).

View Comments

  • It appears that you're as bad at Latin (I studied Latin for 4 years) and taxonomy of species, as you are at general science, biology, ecology, statistics, and law. But why should that ever stop you from incessantly making a global public fool of yourself. Carry on ...

    • Mr Latin Scholar. I let you make one more comment when you explain to me precisely where it is incorrect.

      • Without giving you the instant benefit of 4 years of study for free, let's just leave it at this: If you haven't studied these topics and earned a valid degree in them, don't pretend to know any of them as if you are some expert in the field. You are only making yourself out to be a total fool, and everyone in the world who knows more than you can instantly discern this about you.

        The layman's definition of "moron": "Someone who is too stupid to even realize that they are that stupid, so they just keep proving to the world that they are a total moron."

        (Often summed-up in the concise saying and sage advice of, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.")

        Can you relate? I bet you can, if you could really think that deeply about it. I won't hold my breath in hoping you can even think that deeply.

        Hint: Stick to just posting photos of "kewt-kittys". Anything beyond that reveals you for what you truly are.

        • I have made my point. You can't correct it because it is correct and sound. You are the fool. You are also a troll and I have given you more than enough air time. BBB. Don't respond as it will neither be read nor published. P.S. studying Latin for 4 years (if that is true which is unlikely) does not make you an Latin scholar. Millions of kids study French at school for years and can't speak word of it.

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