Felis Sylvestris Cattus

I seem to remember hearing that, in ancient Rome, “felis” indicated one animal, and “cattus” another; and that one of them (I believe “felis”) bore little resemblance to what we now think of as a cat. Perhaps you could supplement your answer to address this side issue.

The Staff Report being referenced, of course, is What was the ancestor of the domestic cat?.

In Vulgar Latin, cattus refers to any small, carnivorous animal (the Roman in the forum might well have called a ferret such without raising an eyebrow). The word is probably (although not certainly) Indo-European, probably from a root **k[sup]w[/sup]at-*, a small or young animal (cf. “kit” for, e.g. fox cubs). The Classical Latin word is felis (or feles).

Not having my vade mecum, Stanley Coren’s magesterial work The Intelligence of Dogs, by my side I can’t be certain of this. But I seem to remember that one problem with the theory that wolves were the progenitors of modern domestic dogs is that wolves have more pairs of genes than do dogs. The famous Russian experiment in which canines selectively bred for neotany (childlike traits in adult animals, in this case docility) developed doglike traits (pied coats, floppy ears, barking) involved silver foxes, not wolves. My working hypothesis is that the modern domestic dog most likely evolved at different times in different locations from different canine species, quite naturally from the fact that canines living close by humans were probably more docile and thus more likely to interbreed.

P.S. If you’ve read Coren you know where my username comes from.

P.P.S. “Cats” in the post subject refers to felines, not the guy who says “all your base are belong to us.”

> P.P.S. “Cats” in the post subject refers to felines,
> not the guy who says “all your base are belong to us.”

Which can be made to scan to sundry Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes from a Certain Musical if you try hard enough. (Frex the opening bars of “Memory.”)

Hey, it’s no worse than changing the lyrics for most renditions of “Dies Irae” to “God’s really cross/ Don’t piss him off.”

Tom Arctus, I can’t find it now, but I saw a recent classification chart for the canines. Current investigation uses DNA, and connects the domestic dog with gray wolves. Interbreeding is not completely definitive.

I’m not sure if I understand you. This appears to go against the principles of evolution as understood. Unless you are speculating closely related but slightly different species were interbreeding, and their offspring continued to interbreed, thereby mixing traits of two or three different subsets into a new species? Like maybe gray wolves, red wolves, foxes, and dingos all mixed together? (I think there’s a bit of a stretch between a couple of those.)

Because the way I first read your sentence, you seem to be saying that independent breedings of animals in different places led to different breeds of domesticated dog. No. Couldn’t happen that way. Taking the species and then interbreeding members with similar traits and using long term strategies to achieve new breeds within the species is the method there. There is some ability to mix in wolf genes, because of the closeness in relation. Breeding for traits within the species has not led to differentiation enough to preclude interbreeding between all dog breeds. While certain pairings are not recommended due to size issues, e.g. breeding a male great dane to a female chihuahua would not bode well for the chihuahua, there has not been enough separation that the pairing can’t happen, and certainly breeding a male chihuahua to a female great dane is a possibility, if a challenge. :wink:

Perhaps you could clarify?

Meanwhile, I’m a bit puzzled by another aspect of the article. OK, the common housecat is now considered a subspecies of a type of wild cat, and is hence now known as Felis sylvestris cattus. Cool, I grok that. What I don’t get is the statement that this new name replaces Felis cattus. Wasn’t the old name for Fluffy “Felis domesticus”?

By the way,

Aren’t dingos properly feral, not wild? That is to say, dingos decended from domesticated dogs, not vice versa.

What I’m wondering about is if Felis sylvestris is where Warner Bros. got the name Sylvester … and how is succotash involved?

According to a quick check, Felis domesticus is attributed to Erxleben 1777, and thus is junior to both F. catus Linneaus and F. sylvestris Schreber 1775. Technically, by the rule of priority it appears that it should be Felis catus sylvestris (and Felis catus lybica) instead of Felis sylvestris catus, but this course has not been followed on the grounds that species names should not be based on domestic animals (according to this site.)

Having had a look at Coren’s book I can now clarify that it is the common red fox, not the wolf, that has a different number of chromosomes, not genes, than the modern domestic dog. No wonder it’s taking Cecil so long. :wink:

What I’m saying is that early humans didn’t have to consciously breed for the modern domestic dog at all. The more docile of the local wild canids would have been more likely to hang around human garbage pits and such and thus have been more likely to breed with each other. We know selecting for docility in the silver fox results in doglike traits within 20 generations. It’s reasonable to assume the same thing might happen with other wild canids, so “proto-dogs” could have naturally appeared close to human habitations. Under this scenario different local populations of wild canids could conceivably have developed into different breeds of domestic dogs.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Well, this site indicates that the gray wolf seems to have been the only proposed ancestor that has contributed genetically to present dogs, but that domestication may have taken place at a number of different times and places.

For more on primitive dogs, check out the Carolina Dog, originally pointed out in another thread by Gaspode.

[[ thereby mixing traits of two or three different subsets into a new species? Like maybe gray wolves, red wolves, foxes, and dingos all mixed together? (I think there’s a bit of a stretch between a couple of those.)]]

Does anyone know about the origin of the dingo? I do know that heelers have some dingo blood. And then there is the Basenji (with no bark) that was bred from some African dog, right? - Jill

Dingos seem to have arrived in Australia well after the first humans did (30,000+ yrs BP). The oldest securely dated remains are only from between 3,000-4,000 yrs BP, but there are other more doubtful records from c. 8,000 yr BP. They almost certainly did not arrive before 10-14,000 yr BP, since they never reached Tasmania, which was connected to the mainland until about that time. Given this history, some postulate that the dingo was brought to Australia by Melanesian or Asian seafarers and has no real connection to the Aborigines.

According to some references, the dingo was not “fully domesticated” when it arrived in Australia, and they cannot be fully tamed now. Aborigines apparently did not use them for hunting or intentionally feed them, but did use them as “living blankets” at times. (As memorably commemorated in the name of the group “Three Dog Night,” supposedly what the aborigines called a very cold night when you had to sleep with three dingos.)

Dingos, New Guinea Singing Dogs, Basenjis, “pariah dogs,” and possibly the “Carolina Dog” I linked to above are all thought to be somehow related to the earliest domesticated dogs. “Pariah dogs” are found from the Balkans through southern Asia and northern Africa, and live in a semi-feral state around villages. These breeds share a rather compact build and an often yellowish or reddish coat color marked with white.

The people who sold us our Basenji told us that Basenjis don’t bark.

They lied.

Basenji’s don’t have bark. Trees have bark. They wood.

Trade it in for a New Guinea Singing Dog. :smiley:

The general gist of the article is that there’s no real difference between the African Wildcat and a domesticated cat. Now, I’m no biologist, and I’m not sure how this relates to the kittens genetics, but I was told there are some small differences.

Whilst traveling in South Africa a few years ago, I visited the Kruger National Park (one of the biggest game reserves in the world). Together with a guide one day, we spotted an African Wildcat. The discussion immediately focused on the differences between the Wildcat and the domesticated feline, as the two look -indeed- strikingly similar. The guide explained that the most prominent difference was the height of the Wildcats legs. I examined a little closer (bear in mind, we were sitting in a Land Rover some 10 meters away), and I’ll be damned: it was taller than the average garden variety kitten! The guide went on to explain that the Wildcats are “higher” because of the tall grass they always have to chase their prey through. When cats got domesticated, this feature lost its competitive edge, thus leading to the “devolutioned” version we have dozing off on the couch.
People who live and work in the Kruger Park (there’s a few settlements in the Park) may only bring their cats if they’re properly neutered or castrated. Wildcats and domesticated cats interbreed easily (hell, it probably doesn’t even qualify as interbreeding), and the produced offspring is usually as tall as a domesticated cat. In other words, “interbreeding” seems to remove the one trait that distinguishes the Wildcat from Fluffy, and therefore, it’s unwanted. The guide added that there was a lot of debate about this: after all, it’s essentially one and the same cat, at least genetically. A lot of scientists opposed the idea of preventing Wildcats from interbreeding with domestic cats because of the identical gene structure. In the end, Kruger Park decided to go ahead with it anyway to preserve the “ancestoral shape” that was under threat of disappearing (at least locally) because of its domesticated successor.

Okay Tom Arctus, after considering and checking out Colibri’s link, I’m inclined to think you’re hypothesis isn’t so far fetched. Considering that all the animals of the genus Canusp can interbreed, it is a possibility that different populations in different places could have developed docile subpopulations that became utilized by humans, and then subsequent interbreeding occurred.

Though Colibri seems to think that site says only gray wolves were the ancestors, from what I can tell they don’t entirely rule out the possibility of what you mention. Although they do state that overall the whole species of domesticated dogs dates back 100,000 yrs, but with certain breeds showing later interbreeding.

I would buy your premise that the more docile members learning to interact with humans would naturally form their own population group and thereby become more doglike, and having separated groups develop simultaneously might provide a little genetic diversity to each of the parent dog pools. However, we know that the diversity of the breeds themselves are dependent on the actions of humans selectively breeding for traits. So your final conclusion is not completely valid.

I was thinking the same thing.

P.S. An interesting scientific name for house cats, as coined by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson: Felis Befriendus in the song Hunt by Numbers.

Greg Charles asked:

I was wondering that myself. I tried a search but couldn’t turn up any definitive statement on the origin of the name, only mention to his first appearance. However, given the play on words associated with many of the characters names (Tweety Bird, or Tweetie Pie; Wile E. Coyote), and given that Felix the Cat was already taken, it certainly is likely that sylvestrus was the source of the name Sylvester. Anybody know if Sylvester was used as a name prior to the cartoon cat?

As to succotash, I’m not aware of any common expletives using that particular vegetable, but it seems likely it was coined specificly for the alliterative use of the “s” sound - funny how the character with a lisp is the only one who ever uses it. (And who was the mean person that put an “s” sound in the word describing a speech impediment dealing with esses? “I have a lithp.”)

Sylvester is a centuries-old name. It’s most likely the Latin name was named after a particular person named Sylvester, as are all the other “sylvestris” (lots of plants, for example).