Taxonomy and evolution
Main article: Cat evolution
The wildcat Felis silvestris is a close relative and possible ancestor of the domestic cat.
The Felids are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago, and include, in addition to the domestic cat, lions, tigers, cougars, and many others. Within this family, domestic cats (Felis catus) are part of the genus Felis, which is a group of small cats containing seven species. Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) of southeast Asia, the African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), the Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis bieti) and the Arabian Sand Cat (Felis margarita).
All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that probably lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia. Although the exact relationships within the Felidae are still uncertain, both the Chinese Mountain Cat and the African Wildcat are close relatives of the domestic cat and are both classed as subspecies of the Wildcat Felis silvestris. As domestic cats are little altered from wildcats, they can readily interbreed. This hybridization may pose a danger to the genetic distinctiveness of wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland and Hungary.
The domestic cat was first classified as Felis catus by Carolus Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae of 1758. However, because of modern phylogenetics, domestic cats are now usually regarded as another subspecies of the Wildcat Felis silvestris. This has resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be called by its subspecies name, Felis silvestris catus. Wildcats have also been referred to as various subspecies of F. catus, but in 2003 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed the name for wildcats as F. silvestris. The most common name in use for the domestic cat remains F. catus, following a...