The evolution of house cats

May 27, 2009 • 6:17 am

How could I resist calling attention to this new Scientific American article, which combines two of my favorite things? The piece is by four first-class scientists, and is well worth reading if you’re an ailurophile.  Among the highlights:

All house cats descend from one species, Felis silvestris (otherwise known as the wildcat).  When I was younger there was speculation that house cats had either descended from multiple species, or had been tamed from the one wildcat species numerous times.  DNA studies described in the article now suggest that there was only a single center of domestication (they call it the cat’s cradle”) in the Middle East, and that all cats descend from the subspecies of  African wildcat called Felis silvestris lybica.

Cats may have been domesticated as long as 10,000 years ago, judging from a burial in Cyprus that included a cat.

“Oriental” breeds like Siamese and Burmese may have been isolated from other breeds of cats for more than 700 years.

Most modern cat breeds appear to have been created in the UK.

Lots of other fun facts and information in the article, which also addresses the perennial questions, “Why aren’t cat breeds as diverse as dog breeds?” (see yesterday’s post on dog “speciation”) and “Why did these unruly animals get domesticated in the first place?”

Felis silvestris lybica
Felis silvestris lybica

Photo courtesy of the African Wildcat Foundation

How do we know that speciation is true?

May 26, 2009 • 9:27 am

Over at his website at Scientific American, Steve Mirsky takes on the creationists’ claim that speciation doesn’t happen because we’ve never seen it happen.  It’s a clever and funny column, and makes a good point. I won’t spoil the fun except to say that Mirsky manages to mention both Mike Tyson and Chihuahuas in the same piece — surely a first.

Unrequited love?
Unrequited love?

Scientific American Podcast for WEIT

March 14, 2009 • 8:57 am

One of the speakers aboard the Darwin Caribbean cruise (aka junket) that I just took was Steve Mirsky, a writer for Scientific American. Mirsky gave several lectures, including a report on the recent AAAS meetings in Chicago and a talk about how Scientific American handles articles.   Mirsky is a nice guy, and asked to interview me for his Sci Am blog, which we did while sitting on the bed in my cabin.  You can find the interview heremirsky; I haven’t listened to it so apologies in advance if I said anything stupid!

Steve Mirsky