Are cats the newest large animal on Earth?

I have heard that domestic cats appeared only as early as Ancient Egyptian times. Bones or drawings of “Felis domesticus” have never been found in prehistoric caves (or elsewhere in prehistoric Earth as far as I know). Is there another large animal (by large I mean cat-sized or larger) that has been on Earth a shorter time than the domestic cat?

The domestic rabbit only goes back about 2000 years. The domestic fox, a few decades.

OK, but are the domestic fox and domestic rabbit entirely new species, as domestic cats are?

BTW, it is widely believed that the domestic cat was created by the ancient Egyptians. Their wild ancestors, the African Wild Cat, are basically somewhat larger tabbys, in a photo you couldn’t tell one from a domestic cat.

This has partially been covered by a staff report here:

And by the responses it generated here:

Basically it depends on whether you consider the domestic cat a separate species from the African wildcat/cat o’ the woods, which it apparently isn’t.
If you do consider it a separate species then I suppose that the answer to your question is probably still no. I don’t have any exact dates but I’d make a WAG that horses (Equus przwalski/caballus) and Cattle (Bos primigenius /indicus/taurus/) were both ‘evolved’ into their current specific types long after cats were domesticated.

I think Dave’s asking about species that have actually been bred into new species like dogs, cats, cattle and horses. The domestic rabbit and fox both remain the same species and are at best classified as a subspecies.

There is a lot of taxonomy restructuring these days as we start to compare the DNA of animals, dogs are probably going to be considered a subspecies of wolves (many already do), domestic horses that have gone feral for several generations develop wild horse physical characteristics, and there are some rabbit breeds that are vastly different, at least in appearance and size, from their wild ancestors.

I believe the first animal to be domesticated (not counting the dog, whose ancestors lived in symbiosis with humans for millenia before selective breeding was actively done) was the horse, though it was originally used primarily as a food animal. I’m pretty sure the cat was domesticated after the auroch as well. I’m not sure exactly when the domestication of the pig and chicken happened, that appears to have happened independently from the other cases of animal domestication, in Asia.

A bit of cross posting there.
I’ll buy that horses were domesticated early on, but when did they ‘evolve’ into E. caballus? If they were being used as herd animals it may have taken a long time. After all reindeer are in the same situation and and there’s no difference between domestic and wild stocks. I just assumed breeding into a domesticated form would only come with close handling. Like I said, just a WAG.
Another thought occurs to me. Alpaca are defined as a seperate species from llama/vicuna (last time I looked). Since people have only been in South America for a few thousand years wouldn’t they qualify?

Selective breeding can cause rapid changes in a breed, they have only been trying to domesticate the fox for 50 years or so and there are already some radical differences in the appearance and behavior from the wild stock. I don’t know if horse herding pre-dated horse domestication, but I imagine once people figured out how to breed for traits it was only a few hundred years before domestic horses were as different from the wild variety as modern ones are (though there is a great variety in modern domestic horses and I’m sure the old breeds were different from modern ones).

The thing is, it’s really hard to argue that the domestic horse is in fact a separate species from wild horses. They interbreed freely, and most of the differences are in appearance and traits easily controlled by growth timer genes. If a chihuahua is the same species as a great dane, then why wouldn’t a domestic horse be the same species as the nearly identical wild variety?

The thing is, these domesticated varieties are not really new species. They LOOK like new species because they look so different from the wild stock. But they are much more closely related to the wild animals than they seem. The variations in coat, size, productivity, etc, are typically the result of only a few different alleles. There are typically no reproductive isolating mechanisms between the domestic and wild populations.

If you look at an Wolf vs a Chihuahua they seem like they are more different than wolves and foxes. But in reality they are very similar genetically and can freely interbreed, only a few new alleles between them.

Same with wild horses and domestic horses, wild cats and domestic cats, lab rats and wharf rats, etc. None of these is really a new species since they can interbreed freely.

So, if we rule out domestic animals and go back to the OP, what WOULD be the newest animal? When I saw the title before I clicked on it, I thought he was going to be talking about how felids as a whole are relatively new.

It would probably be some island species, I’m guessing. Speciation can happen very fast when a group is isolated.

The cichlids in the African Rift lakes come to mind.

Domestic animals don’t count as new species. So, to answer Badtz Maru’s modified OP–what would be the newest animal? A Google search for “most recently evolved species” turns up sea otters.



Clouded leopards.


Early Man.


And, of course, us.

Looks to me like if Badtz wants his modified question answered–“Is there another large animal (by large I mean cat-sized or larger) that has been on Earth a shorter time than the cat?”–all he has to do is look in the mirror.


I knew that some foxes have been rescued from fur farms and kept as pets, but I was unaware of any systematic, decades-long efforts to domesticate them.

How is this being done? Are foxes being bred to other foxes with the desired traits, or are they being bred to dogs?

And what’s the point? Why not just breed a fox-like dog?

OK, if it’s big stuff we’re after I can top Goose’s lot (except maybe humans) with the Polar Bear, evolved from Brown Bears as little as 200,000 years ago (some say 100,000).

The Coiba Agouti Dasyprocta coibensis (a large rainforest rodent about the size of a cat) is found on Coiba Island off Panama, and almost certainly evolved from the Central American Agouti D. punctata after the island was cut off by rising sea level after the Pleistocene maybe 11-14,000 years ago. I’m sure there are tons of other examples like this if I looked for them. But of course a lot of this depends on your definition of “species.” The Coiba Howler Monkey, for example, doubtlessly of similar age, is sometimes considered a separate species from the ones on the mainland and sometimes just a subspecies.


Well, we didn’t beat lions by much. The earliest archaic homo sapiens are from about 400,000 years ago, maybe earlier. They weren’t our subspecies of homo sapiens, they pre-dated neandertalensis, but they were our species. Modern lions are divided into several subspecies still, some of them may be younger than homo sapiens sapiens.

I think it’s funny that when they tried to breed foxes for domesticity, they began retaining juvenile coloration traits into adulthood, which made them nearly useless for the purpose they were being bred for.

They really should have expected that, though, as all domestic animals are basically childlike versions of the wild version.

Are we counting man-made species? Like the Beefalo? and Liger?

I don’t think we should count hybridizations that don’t occur in the wild…not sure they should be counted at all unless the hybrid version somehow becomes a separate population from it’s source species.

A human/chimp hybrid would probably be entirely possible, but it doesn’t occur naturally and if it ever does occur (or if it has) I’m pretty sure it would be covered up.

This is a major hijack, but I seem to recall hearing that there was some serious speculation that Jane Goodall was killed because she was seen having sexual relations with gorillas, and there are some very strong taboos against this among cultures that come into contact with the great apes.