Domesticated cats are still wild

How the wild cat became a house cat

“Even modern house cats live somewhere along a continuum from close relationships with humans to wild animals,” write researchers working with the Polish archaeologist Magdalena Krajcarz in the specialist magazine “PNAS.” In their study, the scientists tried to find out what the special position of the Domestic cat among the pets came.

According to the current state of research, all domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) descend from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) - also known as the black cat. Both subspecies can hardly be distinguished from one another on the basis of genetic analyzes. Another subspecies can be clearly distinguished, the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris).

Reconstructed diet

Krajcarz and colleagues found enough intact bone collagen in the remains of six black cats in southern Poland to be able to draw conclusions about their diet. To do this, they examined the amount of two stable isotopes: Nitrogen-15 is increasingly incorporated into the collagen protein by the body when the food comes from fields that have been fertilized with animal dung.

Carbon-13 is found all the more frequently in collagen, the more C4 plants (especially cereals and other useful plants) the living being has consumed in the months and years before its death.

The researchers compared the isotopes found in cats with those found in the remains of humans, pets, and wild animals from 4,300 to 6,200 years ago. They also used domestic cat fossils from Roman times in Poland. The cats of the late Neolithic age differed significantly in terms of isotopic composition (and consequently in terms of diet) from contemporary humans and dogs as well as from strongly human-bound cats from Roman times.

Independent culture followers

The nitrogen-15 and carbon-13 values ​​of the six black cats were significantly lower, according to the study. This suggests that they ate fewer mice and other animals that had mainly fed on food from fertilized fields and C4 plants. Instead, like the European wildcats, they probably hunted animals primarily in the wild. According to the researchers, the Neolithic cats were more likely to be culture followers, finding quick prey near human encampments, than well-integrated pets.

"Among the domesticated wild animals, the cat ancestors were unique because of their solitary, territorial behavior," the scientists write. How close the relationship was between the house cat ancestors of the late Neolithic and the people who once lived in what is now Poland is still open.

red, science.ORF.at/Agenturen

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