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All cats, from jungle cats to house cats, belong to the cat family,
Felidae, order Carnivora. The cat family, Felidae, order Carnivora, contains about 36
species that are usually grouped into two to four genera, depending on the classification
system used. According to one common system, four genera exist: Panthera (jaguar,
leopard , lion, tiger), Neofelis (clouded leopard), Acinomyx (cheetah), and
lynx, and smaller cats such as the domestic
, Pallas's cat, and the wildcat). Cats are
native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica.
We've all heard that cats have nine lives, that bit of folklore is fitting for a creature
that has survived some 30 million years of environmental changes. A key factor is their
ability to balance between general survival and specialized skills. Strong muscles for
example, allow cats to climb.
Cats have short, rounded heads, erect ears, and large eyes with vertical-slit pupils.
The pupils are considered adaptations for nocturnal existence. There are 28 to 30 teeth,
depending on the species. The canines, or fangs, are large and strong and used for
stabbing prey. The carnassials, a pair of teeth on each side of the jaw--the last upper
premolar and the first lower molar--are formed into large, cross-shearing blades for
cutting meat. The tongue is covered with sharp, curved projections (papillae) used for
rasping meat off bones, cleaning the fur, and drinking. The neck is thick and heay to
withstand he shocks of the violent actions of the head and teeth.
Cats have five toes on each front foot and four toes on each hind foot
and are known as digitigrade--that is, they walk on their toes; the fifth digit, or thumb
(dewclaw), is carried high on the leg. All cats except the cheetah have large, curved, sharp
claws that can be retracted into sheaths on the toes to prevent them from becoming
blunted, but many cats walk by placing the hind feet in the tracks of the forefeet.
Cat's coats often camouflage them, yet the same environment can shelter cats with
wildly different markings. Patterns may help individuals recognize mates and kin. Color
blotches on an ear or tail may help young cats spot their mother while trudging though
A cat's keen sight is the best known of its senses, lets it stalk and hunt in the
darkness. Cat's have binocular vision like us, binocular vision enhances cat's depth
perception which is an important tool for pinpointing prey.