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.

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2 thoughts on “From Felis Attica to Martelli’s Cat to Wildcat

  1. The cat family originated in Asia, so it is pretty interesting that the wildcat’s origins are in Europe. The lynx lineage originated in Africa and spread to Eurasia and North America, and we’re thinking that the wildcat lineage began in Europe and spread to Africa and Asia, which is pretty cool.

    Smaller cats aren’t that well-preserved in the fossil record, so it’s really interesting how this could come about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll continue to consider domestic cats Felis silvestris catus,. There’s been quite a lot of intergrading between domesticated F. silvestris lybica and other subspecies of F. silvestris, as well as occasional hybridizing with other Felis species, particularly F. chaus (rarely in the wild, but intentionally in captivity). Given that, and some pronounced behavioral modifications that have occurred with domestication (or semi-domestication, if you prefer), I think subspecies status is warranted for F.s.catus. Kittens of some of the truly wild small cats can be tamed if they are taken and hand-raised before their eyes open, but they often revert to wildness when they begin to mature sexually. F.s.catus, while retaining the ability to become truly feral and able to survive and reproduce in the wild, usually does not revert to wildness at sexual maturity, and kittens of feral F.s.catus can generally be taken and raised tame in the home even after they have left the nest.

    Designating Felis silvestris catus as a subspecies in its own right also allows for the eventual inclusion within the subspecies of hybrids of other small cats, some of which have already become part of the random-bred free-ranging cats in some areas (Bengals, for instance, multi-generational crosses of the Asian leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis x Felis silvestris catus, are so common in some areas of the USA that they are often found among street cats, especially in the western states, where they originated.

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