From Felis Attica to Martelli’s Cat to Wildcat

The genus Felis evolved around 12 million years ago and gave rise to many small cat species. There are four extant species, the Jungle cat (Felis chaus), the Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes), the Sand Cat (Felis margarita), and the Wildcat (Felis silvestris).

9 million years ago in the late Miocene, a small cat the size of a modern bobcat (Lynx rufus), albeit with a longer profile, known as Felis attica appeared. It was an ancestor of the first modern Felis cats, such as the Martelli’s cat (Felis lunensis). Fossil specimens of this now-extinct species, Felis attica, have been found and uncovered in western Eurasia. This species was the smallest of the Miocene Felinae. Felis attica, due to differences from the modern Felis cats, was reclassified into the genus Pristifelis in 2012, making it Pristifelis attica.

One of the first modern Felis cats to appear is the now extinct Martelli’s cat (Felis lunensis), which appeared in Europe 2.5 million years ago in the Pliocene. Fossil specimens of the Martelli’s cat were found and uncovered in Italy and Hungary. The Martelli’s cat was named after Ugolini Martelli, the naturalist who first described this Felis genus cat in 1906.

The modern wildcat is believed to have evolved from the Martelli’s cat 2 million years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.

The first wildcat subspecies to evolve is the stocky, club-like tailed, thick furred, striped European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris).  During the Late Pleistocene, some wildcats migrated south into the Middle East due to the ice ages, giving rise to the more slender, rope-like tailed, thinner furred, and broken striped Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). From the Near Eastern wildcat gave rise to the lightly striped, longer legged, even more slender Southern African Wildcat (Felis silvestris cafra) and the distinctly spotted and slender Central Asian wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata). The Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis silvestris bieti) evolved from the Central Asian Wildcat, but is stockier, thicker furred, more faintly striped, and has a club-like tail.