Wednesday, January 17, 2018

3 Small Cats

Here's a fun triptych of trail camera photos for ya. A California cat trifecta: Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Domestic Cat (Felis catus) and Mountain Lion (Puma concolor).

3 small cats

3 small cats

3 small cats

The 3 cat species that live in California, and, as you can plainly see, all small cats.

"Wha? Small cats?"

Yep, small cats.

In the world of cats, there are actually only 2 lineages still extant - the Big Cats (Pantherinae) and the Small Cats (Felinae).

Both split from a common house-cat-sized ancestor, Pseudaelurus, about 10 million years ago, after Pseudaelurus had spread across the world from Eurasia to North America.

The Big Cats then generally got big, and today are the lion, tiger, leopards and jaguar.

And the Small Cats generally stayed small, and include the lynxes, ocelots, caracals, wild cats, bay cats and pumas.

The cougar just happens to be a Small Cat that got big. But in 1001 other ways, it's still the same as its Small Cat brethren, such as our domestic cats (including attitude!). Being Small Cats, mountain lions even purr just like house cats.

Did you know there's another Small Cat in the puma line still alive today that also evolved in North America, also got big, and is actually the closest living genetic relative to the cougar?

The cheetah.

And while I haven't had the pleasure of seeing a cheetah in the wild, on a trip in the Okavango in 2007 I did see the wild relative that begat our house cat - the African Wildcat (Felis lybica):

an african wildcat (really)

Sizes, like genetics, are all relative.



  1. Ok, I had to look up Okavango. I would love to also see the European wildcat still wild in Scotland.

  2. Here, Kitty, Kitty... This was a very informative post. Thanks! Like Cindy, I, too, had to look up Okavango. At that point, traveling so far, you should have also made a stop at Madagascar (it's on my bucket list of places to visit). Andy has a rule that we have to stay somewhere for as many days as it took hours to get there, hence our trip to New Zealand for 5 weeks the same year as your trip. Not sure about your claim about the cheetah -relative- developing in N.A. millions of years ago. Was the house cat caught on your cam trap before the mountain lion? Here in PG, when small dogs and house cats go missing and sightings of mountain lions at the old McD's (it's unfortunately now a Starbucks, just like in Yosemite!), the kids write yard signs warning the mountain lions to stay away. Purrrrr.

    1. Not sure why you are unsure about the Cheetah claim but what RT says it's true. Evolved in North America and migrated to Africa ~100,000 years ago. Plenty of citations out there.

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  3. Crazy how much the African Wild Cat looks like a domestic cat.

  4. Nice set of comparison photos even if the bobcat seems a bit on the small side -- at least compared to the bobcats we have here in northcentral PA.

  5. Hmm, the Cheetah evolved in N.America? Surprising, I'll have to look into that more. I enjoy your site. I had a couple of small felid sightings on a camera behind my house as well. Check it out here

  6. Somewhere, I have a slide of 2 cheetahs lounging on the hood of my Dad's Land Cruiser at whatever NPk is closest to Nairobi, from, hrm, 1976-ish. They were semi-pets, and liked the warmth of the motor. Plus, treats!

    Really need to digitize some of my old slides. Plus, de-fade them!

  7. Great set of comparison pics!


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