August 18, 2023 | Jerry Bergman

Did Your Pet Cat Evolve?

 We love cats because they were created for us.
They did not evolve from wild cats.

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The second most popular pet worldwide is the cat. Dogs are still number one. The domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) is so popular a pet species that they are owned by as many as 600 million persons worldwide.[1]

Jonathan Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, uses evolution to try to explain why cats are so popular. He does not succeed. The first problem is that, even though he claims to be an evolutionary biologist, he admits that he spent most of his professional career “studying how species adapt to their environment.”[2]  In other words, he has spent his career researching the good design of animals and why this design enables them to thrive in their environment.

When we think of evolution, we normally think of the view that molecules evolved into man.[3] ‘Evolution’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as the process by which new species or populations of life develop from preexisting life-forms, explaining the appearance of new species by the action of biological mechanisms including genetic mutation and natural selection. When the term “evolution” is used, most readers often think not of the normal variations existing in all life, but molecules-to-man evolution.

Losos writes about the many cat kinds, noting the large variety that exists including

Big cats – like lions, tigers and pumas – [which] are the attention-grabbing celebrities of the feline world. But of the 41 species of wild felines, the vast majority are about the size of a housecat. Few people have heard of the black-footed cat or the Borneo bay cat, much less the kodkod, oncilla or marbled cat.[4]

He claims that any of these species could have been the progenitor of the modern domestic cat. Losos then speculates about the process that converted a wild cat into the tame house cat we have today. To do this he includes it in a general explanation about the domestication of not only cats, but also dogs, horses, sheep, goats, and scores of other animals. The plot revolves around the idea that people started raising crops and storing the excess harvest for lean times. These granaries led to rodent population explosions.

The plot thickens. Some wildcats took advantage of this bounty and soon more cats began hanging around the granaries. People soon saw the benefit of having the cats around and treated them kindly, giving them food and even shelter. Some cats entered people’s huts. Some even allowed themselves to be petted and, voilà, the domestic cat was born!

Out of Africa Theory for Cats

Losos then adds that the reason the North African wildcat gave rise to our household companions was because

African wildcats are among the friendliest of feline species; raised gently, they can make affectionate companions. In contrast, despite the most tender attention, their close relative the European wildcat grows up to be hellaciously mean.[5]

In other words, from Losos’ description (and inadvertent admission), it appears that the modern cat was created to be what it is today: namely, the modern ideal companion of humans, found the world over, negating his claim that any of the species he named could have been the progenitor of the modern domestic cat. This “created for us” position was confirmed by recent DNA studies that “demonstrate unequivocally that today’s house cats arose from the African wildcat – specifically, the North African subspecies, Felis silvestris lybica.”[6]

Tigers are not capable of domestication.

Do Genes Fit the Tale?

Genetic comparisons determined that “only 13 genes have been changed by natural selection during the domestication process. By contrast, almost three times as many genes changed during the descent of dogs from wolves.”[7]  I would add that we have only evidence that 13 genes are different. We have no evidence that 13 genes were changed in the domestication process. If the domestication process was the source of the change, it must have occurred in a very early stage because, as far as is known, all modern domesticated cats have these 13 unique genes. It is more logical to conclude that domesticated cats were bred by humans to be the variety of domesticated cats existing today, and all domesticated cats descended from this first created domesticated cat. Losos attributes the resultant changes of these 13 genes to ‘evolution’ by asserting that

housecats, like other domestic animals, have evolved reductions in the parts of the brain associated with aggression, fear and overall reactivity and the intestines [are] longer in domestic cats to digest vegetable-based food provided by or scavenged from humans.[8]

We have evidence that these genes reduce aggression, and lengthened the digestive track, but have no evidence that these genes evolved to specifically reduce aggression and lengthen the digestive track. A creationist would explain that genes were created in the first cat to be a domestic cat under the dominion of man (Genesis 1:26, 28). Lastly, house cats, like wild cats, can still be very aggressive, as anyone who has owned a cat rightly knows.

Summary

Cats bring joy, comfort and fascination to many people: men, women, boys and girls. Their antics are the source of numerous popular videos. (DFC)

Jonathan Losos is a Harvard-trained evolutionary biologist with a major interest in cat evolution. His article on the evolution of the domestication of cats assumes that the cat’s domestication evolved, but the evidence he gives can better be explained as part of their being created (and intentionally bred by man to produce the variety existing today) to serve humans by, among other rolls, reducing the rodent population. To be house cats, though, after their birth they must have very early contact with humans. Not having this contact allows them to survive in the wild, supporting the view that, although created to be human companions, they have another adaptive nature that allows them to survive in the wild, i.e., the non-human world.

—Ed. note: For dog lovers, here’s a video by Dennis Prager.

References

[1] Montague, Michael J, et al. Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlying feline biology and domestication.Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences 111(48):17230-17235;

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410083111, 10 November 2014.

[2] Losos, Jonathan. Cats first finagled their way into human hearts and homes thousands of years ago – here’s how. The Conversation; https://theconversation.com/cats-first-finagled-their-way-into-human-hearts-and-homes-thousands-of-years-ago-heres-how-208909, 3 August 2023.

[3] Bendall, D.S., ed. Evolution From Molecules to Men. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 1983; Porter, Sir George. Molecules to Man. Heinemann Educational, New York, NY, 1972; Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. Biological Science: Molecules to Man. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 1963.

[4] Losos, 2023.

[5] Losos, 2023.

[6] Losos, 2023.

[7] Montague, et al., 2014.

[8] Losos, 2023.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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Comments

  • Andrés says:

    Good article J.Bergman.
    A query, what do you think of this famous news claiming to have found a missing link in pterosaurs?
    They named the creature Ventoraptor gassenae. All they found were incomplete bone fragments, but artistic representations and cladistic data try to make sense of evolution. They are pure nonsense and fantasies.
    They can’t be so biased and use a single fossil or a small handful and proclaim “We found a pterosaur precursor.”
    The media make me lose faith in humanity even more because of how exaggerated they are.

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