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I have received this question during a recent discussion about pet birds and cats. We know that birds evolved from the dinosaurs before the mass extinction that happened about 66 million years ago.

However, I could not find such clear information about the most prolific creature on the Internet.

This article suggests Felis attica (reclassified to Pristifelis attica) as an ancestor which seems to have lived about 12 million years ago.

I am interested in filling the gap between the mass extinction and Felis attica to have an answer for my question, but I cannot find an article diving even further in cats history.

Question: What did (domestic) cats evolve from?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to be a bit more specific: are you asking what cats in general (that is, the group felines like lions, tigers, jaguars &c) evolved from, which would be akin to "birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs", or are you asking which wild felines the domestic cats evolved from? Which would be like asking which bird species my pet canary evolved from... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 1 '20 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I am interested in a rather deep ancestry of domestic cats. This would be the first option from your comment. $\endgroup$ – Alexei Dec 1 '20 at 19:26
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The carnivora can be seen in this phylogeny tree which comprises most of today's mammals. They suggest that rodents, elephants, monkeys, dogs and sea mammals all diverged from about 30 million years before the asteroid, until 5 million years after. The placentals and marsupials had a common ancestor previous to 100 million years ago.

Image from genomic study: enter image description here

Previous to the Felix clade we have Feliforma, which includes mongooses and hyenas.

Image from wiki Feliformia: enter image description here

There's a tree here

The last common ancestor of cats and dogs was about 40-55 million years ago. Feliforma family tree.

If you want to see previous to that, there are some basal carnivora, where the Feliforma are at the end of the tree.

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    $\begingroup$ Please reference where you've taken images from. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 1 '20 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, added reference. It's from wiki and the resizing is wrong. thanks. $\endgroup$ – aliential Dec 1 '20 at 16:45
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Domestic cats ancestor was likely Felis silvestris or Felis lybica

Now this is actually just our best guess, little on the way of fossil evidence has been found but based on genetics Felis silvestris is the closes genetic match to the domesticated cat. However questions have arisen due to the risk of interbreeding, so it is possible Felis lybica may be it and Felis silvestris may only be a closely related sister group.

The big problem, Felis silvestris and Felis lybica form what is known as a species complex. That is a a collection of populations that may or may not be separate species. They are so closely related and physically similar that it is difficult to be sure they even are separate species. There is a lot of debate over which population leads to the domesticated cat and evidence is tentative at best. Both species readily crossbreed with domesticated cats so a form answer may never be possible.

Source

Source 2

enter image description here

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