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Felidae [1]
Temporal range:
OligocenePresent, 25–0  Ma
TigerCanada lynxServalCougarFishing catAsian golden catOcelotEuropean wildcatFelidae
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Fischer von Waldheim, 1817
Type genus
Felidae range.png
Felidae ranges

Felidae is a family of mammals in the order Carnivora, colloquially referred to as cats, and constitutes a clade. A member of this family is also called a felid. [3] [4] [5] [6] The term "cat" refers both to felids in general and specifically to the domestic cat (Felis catus). [7]


Felidae species exhibit the most diverse fur pattern of all terrestrial carnivores. [8] Cats have retractile claws, slender muscular bodies and strong flexible forelimbs. Their teeth and facial muscles allow for a powerful bite. They are all obligate carnivores, and most are solitary predators ambushing or stalking their prey. Wild cats occur in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Some wild cat species are adapted to forest habitats, some to arid environments, and a few also to wetlands and mountainous terrain. Their activity patterns range from nocturnal and crepuscular to diurnal, depending on their preferred prey species. [9]

Reginald Innes Pocock divided the extant Felidae into three subfamilies: the Pantherinae, the Felinae and the Acinonychinae, differing from each other by the ossification of the hyoid apparatus and by the cutaneous sheaths which protect their claws. [10] This concept has been revised following developments in molecular biology and techniques for analysis of morphological data. Today, the living Felidae are divided in two subfamilies: the Pantherinae and Felinae, with the Acinonychinae subsumed into the latter. Pantherinae includes five Panthera and two Neofelis species, while Felinae includes the other 34 species in ten genera. [11]

The first cats emerged during the Oligocene about 25 million years ago, with the appearance of Proailurus and Pseudaelurus . The latter species complex was ancestral to two main lines of felids: the cats in the extant subfamilies and a group of extinct cats of the subfamily Machairodontinae, which include the saber-toothed cats such as the Smilodon . The "false sabre-toothed cats", the Barbourofelidae and Nimravidae, are not true cats, but are closely related. Together with the Felidae, Viverridae, hyaenas and mongooses, they constitute the Feliformia. [7]


Skull of a lion from Kruger National Park Panthera leo Kruger Skull.jpg
Skull of a lion from Kruger National Park
Domestic cat purring
Domestic cat meowing
Lion roaring

All members of the cat family have the following characteristics in common:

The colour, length and density of their fur is very diverse. Fur colour covers the gamut from white to black, and fur pattern from distinctive small spots, stripes to small blotches and rosettes. Most cat species are born with a spotted fur, except the jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi), Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) and caracal (Caracal caracal). The spotted fur of lion (Panthera leo) and cougar (Puma concolor) cubs change to a uniform fur during their ontogeny. [8] Those living in cold environments have thick fur with long hair, like the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) and the Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul). [13] Those living in tropical and hot climate zones have short fur. Several species exhibit melanism with all-black individuals. [9]

In the great majority of cat species, the tail is between a third and a half of the body length, although with some exceptions, like the Lynx species and margay. [9] Cat species vary greatly in body and skull sizes, and weights:

Most cat species have a haploid number of 18 or 19. Central and South American cats have a haploid number of 18, possibly due to the combination of two smaller chromosomes into a larger one. [26]


Feliform evolutionary timeline Feliform Timeline.svg
Feliform evolutionary timeline
Megantereon model.jpg
Megantereon model at Natural History Museum of Basel
Smilodon fatalis.jpg
Model of Smilodon fatalis
Panthera leo atrox Sergiodlarosa.jpg
Graphical reconstruction of an American lion (Panthera atrox)

The family Felidae is part of the Feliformia, a suborder that diverged probably about 50.6 to 35 million years ago into several families. [27] The Felidae and the Asiatic linsangs are considered a sister group, which split about 35.2 to 31.9 million years ago . [28]

The earliest cats probably appeared about 35 to 28.5 million years ago . Proailurus is the oldest known cat that occurred after the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event about 33.9  million years ago; fossil remains were excavated in France and Mongolia's Hsanda Gol Formation. [7] Fossil occurrences indicate that the Felidae arrived in North America earliest 25  million years ago. This is about 20  million years ago later than the Ursidae and the Nimravidae, and about 10 million years later than the Canidae. [29]

In the Early Miocene about 20 to 16.6 million years ago , Pseudaelurus lived in Africa. Its fossil jaws were also excavated in geological formations of Europe's Vallesian, Asia's Middle Miocene and North America's late Hemingfordian to late Barstovian epochs. [30]

In the Early or Middle Miocene, the sabre-toothed Machairodontinae evolved in Africa and migrated northwards in the Late Miocene. [31] With their large upper canines, they were adapted to prey on large-bodied megaherbivores. [32] [33] Miomachairodus is the oldest known member of this subfamily. Metailurus lived in Africa and Eurasia about 8 to 6 million years ago . Several Paramachaerodus skeletons were found in Spain. Homotherium appeared in Africa, Eurasia and North America around 3.5  million years ago, and Megantereon about 3  million years ago. Smilodon lived in North and South America from about 2.5  million years ago. This subfamily became extinct in the Late Pleistocene. [31]

Results of mitochondrial analysis indicate that the living Felidae species descended from a common ancestor, which originated in Asia in the Late Miocene epoch. They migrated to Africa, Europe and the Americas in the course of at least 10 migration waves during the past ~11 million years. Low sea levels, interglacial and glacial periods facilitated these migrations. [34] Panthera blytheae is the oldest known pantherine cat dated to the late Messinian to early Zanclean ages about 5.95 to 4.1 million years ago . A fossil skull was excavated in 2010 in Zanda County on the Tibetan Plateau. [35] Panthera palaeosinensis from North China probably dates to the Late Miocene or Early Pliocene. The skull of the holotype is similar to that of a lion or leopard. [36] Panthera zdanskyi dates to the Gelasian about 2.55 to 2.16 million years ago . Several fossil skulls and jawbones were excavated in northwestern China. [37] Panthera gombaszoegensis is the earliest known pantherine cat that lived in Europe about 1.95 to 1.77 million years ago . [38]

Living felids fall into eight evolutionary lineages or species clades. [39] [40] Genotyping of nuclear DNA of all 41 felid species revealed that hybridization between species occurred in the course of evolution within the majority of the eight lineages. [41]

Modelling of felid coat pattern transformations revealed that nearly all patterns evolved from small spots. [42]


Traditionally, five subfamilies have been distinguished within the Felidae based on phenotypical features: the Pantherinae, the Felinae, the Acinonychinae, [10] and the extinct Machairodontinae and Proailurinae. [2]

Living species

The following table shows the living genera within the Felidae, grouped according to the traditional phenotypical classification. [11] Estimated genetic divergence times of the corresponding eight genotypical evolutionary lineages are indicated in million years ago (Mya), based on analysis of autosomal, xDNA, yDNA and mtDNA gene segments; [34] and estimates based on analysis of biparental nuclear genomes. [41]

Subfamily Pantherinae
GenusSpecies IUCN Red List status and distribution
Neofelis Gray, 1867 [43]
[Lineage 1: 14.45 to 8.38 Mya]
Clouded leopard (N. nebulosa) (Griffith, 1821) [44]

diverged 9.32 to 4.47 Mya
Neofelis nebulosa.jpg

VU [45]

Clouded-leopard distribution.jpg

Sunda clouded leopard (N. diardi) (Cuvier, 1823) [46]

diverged 2 to 0.9 Mya [47]
Borneo clouded leopard.jpg

VU [48]

Sunda-Clouded-leopard distribution.jpg

Panthera Oken, 1816 [49]
[Lineage 1]; 11.75 to 0.97 Mya [41]
Leopard (P. pardus) (Linnaeus, 1758) [50]

diverged 4.63 to 1.81 Mya
Namibie Etosha Leopard 01edit.jpg

VU [51]

Leopard distribution.jpg

Tiger (P. tigris) (Linnaeus, 1758) [52]

diverged 4.62 to 1.82 Mya
Panthera tigris tigris.jpg

EN [53]

Tiger map.jpg

Snow leopard (P. uncia) (Schreber, 1775) [54]

diverged 4.62 to 1.82 Mya
Schneeleoparden Kailash und Dshamilja frontal.jpg

VU [55]

SnowLeopard distribution.jpg

Lion (P. leo) (Linnaeus, 1758) [56]

diverged 3.46 to 1.22 Mya
Lionss of king.jpg

VU [57]

Lion distribution.png

Jaguar (P. onca) (Linnaeus, 1758) [58]

diverged 3.46 to 1.22 Mya
Standing jaguar.jpg

NT [59]

Panthera onca distribution.svg

Subfamily Felinae
GenusSpeciesIUCN Red List status and distribution
Pardofelis Severtzov, 1858 [60]
[Lineage 2: 12.77 to 7.36 Mya]
Marbled cat (P. marmorata) (Martin, 1836) [61]

diverged 8.42 to 4.27 Mya
Marbled cat borneo.jpg

NT [62]

MarbledCat distribution.jpg

Catopuma Severtzov, 1858 [60]
[Lineage 2]; 8.47 to 0.41 Mya [41]
Asian golden cat (C. temminckii) (Vigors & Horsfield, 1827) [63]

diverged 6.42 to 2.96 Mya; 4.58 to 0.03 Mya [41]
Asian golden cat at Edinburgh Zoo.jpg

NT [64]

AsianGoldenCat distribution.jpg

Bay cat (C. badia) (Gray, 1874) [65]

diverged 6.42 to 2.96 Mya; 4.58 to 0.03 Mya [41]
Bay cat 1 Jim Sanderson-cropped.jpg

EN [66]

BayCat distribution.jpg

Leptailurus Severtzov, 1858 [60]
[Lineage 3: 11.56 to 6.66 Mya]
Serval (L. serval) (Schreber, 1775) [67]

diverged 7.91 to 4.14 Mya
Leptailurus serval -Serengeti National Park, Tanzania-8.jpg

LC [68]

Serval distribution.jpg

Caracal Gray, 1843 [69]
[Lineage 3]; 11.99 to 3.64 Mya [41]
Caracal (C. caracal) (Schreber, 1776) [70]

diverged 2.93 to 1.19 Mya; 6.25 to 0.07 Mya [41]
Caracl (01), Paris, decembre 2013.jpg

LC [71]

Caracal distribution.jpg

African golden cat (C. aurata) (Temminck, 1827) [72]

diverged 2.93 to 1.19 Mya; 6.25 to 0.07 Mya [41]

VU [73]

AfricanGoldenCat distribution.jpg

Leopardus Gray, 1842 [74]
[Lineage 4: 10.95 to 6.3 Mya]; 5.19 to 0.93 Mya [41]
Pampas cat (L. colocola) (Molina, 1782) [75]

diverged 2.70 to 1.18 Mya
Leopardus pajeros 20101006.jpg

NT [76]

PampasCat distribution.jpg

Andean mountain cat (L. jacobitus) (Cornalia, 1865) [77]

diverged 2.70 to 1.18 Mya
Andean cat 1 Jim Sanderson.jpg

EN [78]

AndeanCat distribution.jpg

Ocelot (L. pardalis) (Linnaeus, 1758) [79]

diverged 2.41 to 1.01 Mya; 4.76 to 0.05 Mya [41]
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)-8.jpg

LC [80]

Ocelot distribution.jpg

Margay (L. wiedii) (Schinz, 1821) [81]

diverged 2.41 to 1.01 Mya; 4.76 to 0.05 Mya [41]
Margaykat Leopardus wiedii.jpg

NT [82]

Margay distribution.jpg

Kodkod (L. guigna) (Molina, 1782) [75]

diverged 1.48 to 0.56 Mya; 4.64 to 0.04 Mya [41]
Leopardus guigna.jpeg

VU [83]

Guigna distribution.jpg

Geoffroy's cat (L. geoffroyi) (d'Orbigny & Gervais, 1844) [84]

diverged 1.48 to 0.56 Mya; 4.64 to 0.04 Mya [41]

LC [85]

GeoffroysCat distribution.jpg

Oncilla (L. tigrinus) (Schreber, 1775) [86]

diverged 1.48 to 0.56 Mya
Leopardus tigrinus - Parc des Felins.jpg

VU [87]

Oncilla distribution.jpg

Southern tigrina (L. guttulus) (Hensel, 1872) [88]

diverged 0.8 to 0.5 Mya [89]
Leopardus tigrinus (Felis tigrina) - Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria - Genoa, Italy - DSC02677.JPG

VU [90]

SouthernTigerCat distribution.jpg

Lynx Kerr, 1792 [91]
[Lineage 5: 9.81 to 5.62 Mya]; 8.67 to 2.39 Mya [41]
Bobcat (L. rufus) (Schreber, 1777) [92]

diverged 4.74 to 2.53 Mya

LC [93]

Bobcat distribution2016.jpg

Canada lynx (L. canadensis) Kerr, 1792 [91]

diverged 2.6 to 1.06 Mya

LC [94]

CanadaLynx distribution2016.jpg

Eurasian lynx (L. lynx) (Linnaeus, 1758) [95]

diverged 1.98 to 0.7 Mya
Lynx Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald 01.jpg

LC [96]

EuropeanLynx distribution2015.jpg

Iberian lynx (L. pardinus) (Temminck, 1827) [97]

diverged 1.98 to 0.7 Mya

EN [98]

IberianLynx distribution2015.jpg

Acinonyx Brookes, 1828 [99]
[Lineage 6: 9.20 to 5.27 Mya]
Cheetah (A. jubatus) Schreber, 1775) [100]

diverged 6.92 to 3.86 Mya
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) female 2.jpg

VU [101]

Cheetah range.gif

Puma Jardine 1834 [102]
[Lineage 6]
Cougar (P. concolor) Linnaeus, 1771 [103]

diverged 6.01 to 3.16 Mya
Mountain Lion in Glacier National Park.jpg

LC [104]

Cougar distribution.jpg

HerpailurusSevertzov, 1858 [60]
[Lineage 6]
Jaguarundi (H. yagouaroundi) (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1803) [105]

diverged 6.01 to 3.16 Mya
Herpailurus yagouaroundi Jaguarundi ZOO Decin.jpg

LC [106]

Jaguarundi distribution.jpg

Otocolobus Brandt, 1842 [107]
[Lineage 7: 8.55 to 4.8 Mya]; 9.4 to 1.46 Mya [41]
Pallas's cat (O. manul) (Pallas, 1776) [108]

diverged 8.16 to 4.53 Mya

NT [109]

Manul distribution.jpg

Prionailurus Severtzov, 1858 [60]
[Lineage 7]; 8.76 to 0.73 Mya [41]
Rusty-spotted cat (P. rubiginosus) (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1834) [110]

diverged 6.54 to 3.42 Mya
Rusty spotted cat 1.jpg

NT [111]

Rusty-spottedCat distribution.jpg

Leopard cat (P. bengalensis) (Kerr, 1792) [112]

diverged 4.31 to 2.04 Mya
Close-up of a Leopard Cat in Sundarban.jpg

LC [113]

LeopardCat distribution.jpg

Fishing cat (P. viverrinus) (Bennett, 1833) [114]

diverged 3.82 to 1.74 Mya
Fishing Cat (120780371).jpeg

VU [115]

FishingCat distribution.jpg

Flat-headed cat (P. planiceps) (Vigors & Horsfield, 1827) [63]

diverged 3.82 to 1.74 Mya
Flat-headed cat 1 Jim Sanderson.JPG

VU [116]

Flat-headedCat distribution2015.jpg

Sunda leopard cat (P. javanensis) (Desmarest, 1816) [117]

diverged 1.3 to 0.56 Mya [118]
Blacan Indonesia.jpg

SundaLeopardCat distribution.jpg

Felis Linnaeus, 1758 [119]
[Lineage 8: 4.88 to 2.41 Mya]; 6.52 to 1.03 Mya [41]
Jungle cat (F. chaus) Schreber, 1777 [120]

diverged 4.88 to 2.41 Mya
Jungle Cat Felis chaus by Dr. Raju Kasambe DSCN7957 (3).jpg

LC [121]

Distribution of Jungle Cat.jpg

Black-footed cat (F. nigripes) Burchell, 1824 [122]

diverged 4.44 to 2.16 Mya

VU [123]

Black-footedCat distribution.jpg

Sand cat (F. margarita) Loche, 1858 [124]

diverged 3.67 to 1.72 Mya
Persian sand CAT.jpg

LC [125]

SandCat distribution.jpg

Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti) Milne-Edwards, 1892 [126]

diverged 1.86 to 0.72 Mya
Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis Bieti) in XiNing Wild Zoo croped.jpg

VU [127]

ChineseMountainCat distribution.jpg

African wildcat (F. lybica) Forster, 1780 [128]

diverged 1.86 to 0.72 Mya
Parc des Felins Chat de Gordoni 28082013 2.jpg

AfricanWildcat distribution.jpg

European wildcat (F. silvestris) Schreber, 1777 [129]

diverged 1.62 to 0.59 Mya
European Wildcat Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald 03.jpg

LC [130]

EuropeanWildcat distribution.jpg

Domestic cat (F. catus) Linnaeus, 1758 [119]

Jammlich crop.jpg


The phylogenetic relationships of living felids are shown in the following cladogram: [34] [41]

Panthera lineage

Leopard (P. pardus)

Lion (P. leo)

Jaguar (P. onca)

Snow leopard (P. uncia)

Tiger (P. tigris)


Clouded leopard (N. nebulosa)

Sunda clouded leopard (N. diardi)

Bay cat lineage

Bay cat (C. badia)

Asian golden cat (C. temminckii)


Marbled cat (P. marmorata)

Caracal lineage

Caracal (C. caracal)

African golden cat (C. aurata)


Serval (L. serval)

Ocelot lineage

Geoffroy's cat (L. geoffroyi)

Kodkod (L. guigna)

Oncilla (L. tigrina)

Andean mountain cat (L. jacobita)

Pampas cat (L. colocola)

Ocelot (L. pardalis)

Margay (L. wiedii)

Lynx lineage

Eurasian lynx (L. lynx)

Iberian lynx (L. pardinus)

Canada lynx (L. canadensis)

Bobcat (L. rufus)

Puma lineage

Cougar (P. concolor)


Jaguarundi (H. yagouaroundi)


Cheetah (A. jubatus)

Leopard cat lineage

Leopard cat (P. bengalensis)

Fishing cat (P. viverrinus)

Flat-headed cat (P. planiceps)

Rusty-spotted cat (P. rubiginosus)


Pallas's cat (O. manul)


Jungle cat (F. chaus)

Black-footed cat (F. nigripes)

Sand cat (F. margarita)


Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti)

African wildcat (F. lybica)

European wildcat (F. silvestris)

Domestic cat (F. catus)

Domestic cat lineage    

Prehistoric taxa

See also

Related Research Articles

Panthera is a genus within the family Felidae that was named and described by Lorenz Oken in 1816 who placed all the spotted cats in this group. Reginald Innes Pocock revised the classification of this genus in 1916 as comprising the species tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard on the basis of common cranial features. Results of genetic analysis indicate that the snow leopard also belongs to the Panthera, a classification that was accepted by IUCN Red List assessors in 2008.


Pseudaelurus is a prehistoric cat that lived in Europe, Asia and North America in the Miocene between approximately twenty and eight million years ago. It is related to today's felines and pantherines as well as the extinct machairodonts (saber-tooths), and is a successor to Proailurus. It originated from Eurasia and was the first cat to reach North America, when it entered the continent at about 18.5 Ma ending a 'cat-gap' of 7 million years. The slender proportions of the animal, together with its short, viverrid-like legs, suggest that it may have been an agile climber of trees.

<i>Felis</i> Genus of mammals (cats)

Felis is a genus of small and medium-sized cat species native to most of Africa and south of 60° latitude in Europe and Asia to Indochina. The genus includes the domestic cat. The smallest Felis species is the black-footed cat with a head and body length from 38 to 42 cm. The largest is the jungle cat with a head and body length from 62 to 76 cm.

Pallass cat Small wild cat

Pallas's cat, also called the manul, is a small wild cat with a broad, but fragmented distribution in the grasslands and montane steppes of Central Asia. It is negatively affected by habitat degradation, prey base decline and hunting. It has been classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2020.

Asian golden cat Small wild cat

The Asian golden cat is a medium-sized wild cat native to the northeastern Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and southern China. It has been listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List since 2008, and is threatened by hunting pressure and habitat loss, since Southeast Asian forests are undergoing the world's fastest regional deforestation.

African golden cat Small wild cat

The African golden cat is a wild cat endemic to the rainforests of West and Central Africa. It is threatened due to deforestation and bushmeat hunting and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval. Previously, it was placed in the genus Profelis. Its body size ranges from 61 to 101 cm with a 16 to 46 cm long tail.


Catopuma is a genus containing two Asian small wild cat species, the Asian golden cat and the bay cat . Both are typically reddish brown in colour, with darker markings on the head.

Flat-headed cat Small wild cat

The flat-headed cat is a small wild cat native to the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra. It is an Endangered species, because the wild population probably comprises fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, with small subpopulations of no more than 250 adults. The population inhabits foremost wetlands, which are being destroyed and converted. For these reasons, it is listed on the IUCN Red List since 2008.


Prionailurus is a genus of spotted, small wild cats native to Asia. Forests are their preferred habitat; they feed on small mammals, reptiles and birds, and occasionally aquatic wildlife.

Marbled cat Small wild cat

The marbled cat is a small wild cat native from the eastern Himalayas to Southeast Asia, where it inhabits forests up to 2,500 m (8,200 ft) altitude. As it is present in a large range, it has been listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List since 2015.


Pardofelis is a genus of the cat family Felidae. This genus is defined as including one species native to Southeast Asia: the marbled cat. Two other species, formerly classified to this genus, now belong to the genus Catopuma.


The Felinae are a subfamily of the family Felidae. This subfamily comprises the small cats having a bony hyoid, because of which they are able to purr but not roar.


Leopardus is a genus of spotted small cats native to Central and South America, with one species extending into the southern United States.. The genus is considered the oldest branch of a lineage of small cats that crossed into the Americas, with the genera Lynx and Puma being later branches of the same group. The largest Leopardus species is the ocelot, and the kodkod is the smallest cat in the Americas. The margay is highly adapted to arboreal life.


Pantherinae is a subfamily within the family Felidae, which was named and first described by Reginald Innes Pocock in 1917. The Pantherinae and the Felinae diverged from a common ancestor between 10.8 and 11.5 million years ago.

<i>Panthera gombaszoegensis</i> Extinct European jaguar species

Panthera gombaszoegensis, also known as the European jaguar, is a Panthera species that lived from about 2.0 to 0.35 million years ago in Europe. The first fossils were excavated in 1938 in Gombasek, Slovakia.

Sunda Island tiger index of animals with the same common name

The Sunda Island tiger is a tiger subspecies native to the Sunda Islands in Indonesia. The name refers to the:

Sunda clouded leopard

The Sunda clouded leopard is a medium-sized wild cat native to Borneo and Sumatra. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2015, as the total effective population probably consists of fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend. On both Sunda islands, it is threatened by deforestation.

Styriofelis is an extinct genus of Felidae known from the Miocene of Europe.

Miopanthera is an extinct genus of Pseudaelurus-grade felids.


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