Cat Diversity

Cat Diversity

Explore the origins of the domesticated cat.


6 - 12


Biology, Geography, Human Geography

Big Cats Initiative

Wildcats (Felis sylvestris) are small cats native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are adapted to a variety of habitats, including savannah, open forest, scrubland, swamp, and farmland. Throughout history, wildcat adaptability and proximity to humans has increased. The wildcat's self-domestication is thought to have coincided with the rise of farming communities. This serves as an example of human-cat coevolution. As grain harvests increased, so did rodent populations. Rodents then became an even more important part of the wildcat's diet. These factors may have driven wildcats to evolve into a separate domesticated species (Felis catus) or subspecies (Felis sylvestris lybica) between 9,000-10,000 years ago. Today, there are over 600 million domestic cats living as pets throughout households on six different continents.

Media Credits

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Angela M. Cowan, Education Specialist and Curriculum Designer
Julie Brown, National Geographic Society
Expert Reviewer
Dr. Luke Dollar, Conservation Scientist
National Geographic Program
Big Cats Initiative
Alison Michel
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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