1 All Kinds of Cats What You Already Know Scientists classify organisms to make communication easier. Since each organism gets its own special name, scientists always know just which one they re talking about. Today s classification system divides organisms into groups and then divides each group into smaller groups. The largest group is the kingdom. The other groups, from largest to smallest, are phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The kingdom most people know best is the animal kingdom. One phylum includes animals that have backbones, or vertebrates. There are many classes of vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and fish. Invertebrates are animals without backbones. Almost all of the animals on our planet are invertebrates. There are many phyla of invertebrates. Insects and spiders belong to the arthropod phylum. Most living things are not animals. Many are plants, which have more than one cell and can produce their own food. Some phyla in the plant kingdom are mosses, ferns, conifers, and flowering plants. Besides plants and animals, most scientists divide life into four other kingdoms. These kingdoms are fungi, protists, eubacteria, and archaebacteria. In this book you will read about cats. Their family is part of the animal kingdom, the vertebrate phylum, and the mammal class.
2 Classifying Cats How are a house cat, a cheetah, and a tiger alike? How are they different? It might help to look at how they are classified. Cats are part of the animal kingdom. All animals fit into this group, from insects to whales. All cats belong to the phylum Chordata and share this smaller group with all the other animals with a backbone. Because cats are warm-blooded, have hair, and make milk for their babies, they belong to the class Mammalia. Cats all eat meat, so they are part of the order Carnivora. Finally, cats belong to the family Felidae and are the only animals on this level. A level lower than family is genus. Wildcats and domestic cats belong to the genus Felis. Cats in the genus Panthera include leopards, tigers, and lions. Cheetahs are the only cats that belong to the Acinonyx genus. Cat Features Cats rely on their senses for survival. They have large eyes to spot prey easily. Have you ever seen a cat s eyes glow? Their eyes have a special layer called a tapetum lucidum that reflects light back into their eyes. This helps them see well at night, when many cats hunt. Although cats have difficulty perceiving different colors, the pupils in their eyes are capable of expanding and contracting. This allows cats eyes to take in more light when it s dark and less light when it s bright. Cats have a great sense of hearing and are able to hear sounds we cannot, such as the tiny squeaks of mice. Cats whiskers are important too. They are long, stiff hairs that grow out of a cat s face. Cats can feel the slightest movement of air over their whiskers. This helps them to find their way in the dark and to know where their prey is. Cats bodies are perfect for hunting. They have sharp teeth, called canines, which they use to pierce their prey. Their backbones are flexible for running quickly and landing safely. Cats walk on their toes, helping them to hunt quietly and run fast.
3 One of the most interesting features that cats have is their claws. Most cats claws can be retracted, or pulled into their paws, when not in use. The claws retract to keep them sharp and protected. They come out whenever a cat makes a scratching movement with its paw. When a cat s claws come out, its toes splay, or spread out. Splayed toes provide several benefits. By splaying its toes, a cat can grip surfaces better and swat at prey with more power. The hair on a cat s toes is highly sensitive, like its whiskers. By splaying its toes, a cat picks up information from the different things it touches. Tiger Weighing three hundred to six hundred pounds, tigers are the biggest and most powerful of all cats. Tigers live in South and East Asia. They make their homes near water, and in grasslands and forests. Tigers hunt animals such as deer, wild pig, and cattle. Tigers need to eat twelve to fifteen pounds of meat every day. That s like eating more than sixty hamburgers! In contrast with other cats, tigers spend lots of time around water and are excellent swimmers. They have been known to catch fish and frogs when their regular food sources are unavailable. Tigers are also capable of climbing trees when they feel threatened. Most tigers have stripes, which help them to hide in the tall grass. They get close to their prey and wait for it to make the first move. Then they attack. There are several different types of tigers, such as the Bengal, Sumatran, and Siberian. Siberian tigers are the largest and lightest in color. They are often thought to be albinos, but they are not. Albinos have no color at all in their skin, hair, or eyes, because they lack a chemical called melanin. But Siberian tigers have black stripes and blue eyes.
4 Hunting and habitat destruction are threatening tigers with extinction. Scientists estimate that fewer than eight thousand tigers remain in the wild. Of the different types, the Chinese tiger is most endangered. Only one hundred, at most, are left in the wild. The Bengal tiger is most common, with almost four thousand living in the wild. Tigers need lots of space. Just one adult male needs twenty-five to thirty-five square miles of land. Project Tiger is a group that works to save tigers homes, which will then help to save tigers from extinction. Lion Lions live on grassy plains in Africa and South Asia. They hunt animals such as zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, and warthogs. If they need to, lions will steal food from cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, or hyenas. If they are very hungry, they will eat insects or grass. What do male lions have that other cats do not? They are the only cats to have a mane of hair around their neck. Lions in cooler areas grow larger manes than lions in warmer areas. Lions are the only cats to live in groups. Their groups are called prides. Prides can have as few as five lions and as many as twenty-six. Lions, like tigers, require large habitats. Prides will roam over an area of 150 square miles in search of prey. When more food is available, they reduce their territories to a tenth of that size. Lions roar loudly and rub against trees and the ground to mark their territory. Prides are made up of female lions called lionesses, their cubs, and a few males. Adult lions breed every couple of years, with lionesses giving birth to two to four cubs at a time. Few cubs survive to become adults. As the male cubs grow, the adult males drive them out of the pride. These cubs spend several years living on their own. Upon becoming adults, many take over a pride from an older and weaker male lion. Other male lions spend their entire lives living on their own.
5 Lionesses are very important to the pride, because they do almost all the hunting. With their lighter bodies, female lions can run much faster than males, which helps them catch prey. Males are important to the pride too. They guard the pride s territory and watch over the cubs. Although the lionesses do the hunting, the males get to eat the prey first. Leopard Leopards are found in India, Southeast Asia, and central and East Africa. They hunt medium-sized mammals, such as baby giraffes. If other meat eaters are near, leopards will bring their meal up into a tree to keep it safe. One kind of leopard is the snow leopard. These leopards live in the mountains and grasslands of central Asia, living off wild sheep and goats and sometimes preying on livestock. They have thick fur to keep warm, large paws to walk in the snow, and a long, fluffy tail. Their tails are used both for balance and to wrap around themselves for extra warmth. Female snow leopards give birth to two to four cubs at a time. They raise their cubs in caves or between rocks. Snow leopards go off to live by themselves at age two, and start producing cubs of their own soon after. Snow leopards have been listed as endangered since As with tigers, scientists think there are only a few thousand remaining in the wild. Some leopards are black. This is because they have large amounts of melanin in their skin. These darkcolored leopards live in the warm Amazon rain forest. Sometimes people call these leopards black panthers, although this name is not really correct. Panther is a name used for large cats of several different species, including leopards, jaguars, and pumas. It is usually used for cats that are black.
6 The name panther comes from the Latin word Panthera. Lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars belong to the genus, or group, called Panthera. These large cats can all roar, and are enough related to mate and produce offspring. For example, a male lion and a female tiger can mate to create a liger. A tigon, the result of a male tiger mating with a female lion, is far more rare. Ligers and tigons can grow much larger than regular tigers and lions. However, they are incapable of producing offspring. Jaguar Jaguars are another of the great spotted cats. They are often confused with leopards, as both have spots with pale centers that look like rings. What makes jaguars spots different are the small, black dots inside some of its ring spots. Jaguars are also larger than leopards. Jaguars that live in the rain forest are darker than ones that live in the grassland. They are the third largest cat in the world, and the largest cat in the Americas. They can be found in southern Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. They like to live near rivers and streams. A male jaguar has a territory twice as large as a female s. Despite their size, jaguars are hard to find in the wild. Like other cats, they live alone and move about quietly. Jaguars can mate at any time during the year. Female jaguars produce two to four cubs at a time, the standard for big cats. Jaguars will hunt any animal they find. They usually hunt wild pigs and capybaras, the world s largest rodent. Jaguars have large canine teeth for catching animals. With their padded feet, jaguars hunt silently on land. They also hunt by climbing trees and waiting for animals. Other prey of the jaguar include water animals such as fish, turtles, and a type of crocodile called a caiman. The jaguar is able to crack open the hard shell of turtles with its strong jaws.
7 Jaguars spend less time resting than other big cats. They are active about 50 to 60 percent of each day. Despite its talents as a hunter, incredible strength, and ability to swim, the jaguar is in serious trouble. For years, people hunted it for its skin, which greatly reduced its numbers. The jaguar was put on the endangered species list in However, it still faces habitat loss due to hunting, logging, farming, and mining in the Amazon rain forest. Smaller Cats How many other kinds of cats can you name? There are twenty-eight species of small cats in the world. Like big cats, small cats are found in all different kinds of habitats. Lynx Lynxes are small cats that live in many different areas. There is a Canadian lynx, a Eurasian lynx, and a Spanish lynx. They live in wooded mountains. They are nocturnal and use their senses of sight and smell to help them hunt. They will follow a scent for miles. Lynxes are good at climbing trees and are able to drop down on their prey. They also swim well. Lynxes eat many different animals, such as rabbits, hares, squirrels, young deer, ducks, fish, and insects. Puma Pumas are also known as cougars or mountain lions. They can be found in the United States, Canada, and South America. They live in deserts, prairies, and forests. Pumas have long legs and large paws, which help them to run in the snow. At night they hunt deer, rodents, birds, amphibians, and insects.
8 Bobcat Bobcats look like domestic cats but are about twice as big. Bobcats are easy to spot because of the white underside of their tail and black tufts of fur on their ears. These tufts help them to hear better. Bobcats can be found in most of the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. They hunt rabbits, rodents, birds, and even small deer. Ocelot Ocelots are very secretive cats. They hide in the jungle, forests, semideserts, and along rivers. With their chainlike pattern of blotches, ocelots blend in well with their surroundings. They live from the southwestern United States to parts of South America. Caracal Caracals live in Africa and the Middle East. Like bobcats, caracals have long, black tufts on the tips of their ears. They like to eat desert hedgehogs and some reptiles. Caracals even jump into the air to catch birds. They have been known to knock down ten to twelve birds in one leap! Because of this, people once trained them to attack birds for entertainment. Geoffroy s Cat Geoffroy s cat is named after the French naturalist Geoffroy St. Hilaire. It lives in southern South America and is about the size of a domestic cat. Geoffroy s cats hunt birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. They are good swimmers and will also catch and eat fish.
9 Cheetah The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah is able to reach speeds of about seventy miles per hour. Cheetahs are built for speed. They have long legs and light bodies. Unlike other cats, cheetahs can t pull their claws back into their paws. Instead, the claws stay out to grip the ground as the cat runs. Cheetahs have larger nasal openings, hearts, lungs, and air passageways than other cats. These help them to breathe while running and to catch their breath afterwards. Their long tail is used for balance when running, helping the cheetah to quickly change direction. Cheetahs chase their prey instead of sitting and waiting for it to get close. They hunt mostly antelope, but in groups they can attack zebras and wildebeests. After chasing its prey, the cheetah will wait twenty to thirty minutes to catch its breath before eating. Cheetahs mainly live in the savanna and semideserts of East Africa. Cheetahs are all genetically similar. Some scientists believe that only a small number of cheetahs survived a major change in climate thousands of years ago. It is from this small number that all modern cheetahs came about. Because of this, they have poor disease resistance. The cheetah has unusual face markings. There is a black stripe running down from the eye to the mouth on both sides of its face.
10 Domestic Cats Domestic cats, or house cats, are thought to be related to African wildcats. Long ago, people may have kept cats to kill rodents. The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats and kept them as pets. They believed that their sun god, Ra, had changed into a cat. Because of this, when their cat died, people would shave their own eyebrows as a sign of sadness. They would even mummify the cat! There are many different kinds of domestic cats today, such as the Siamese, Persian, and Abyssinian. Cats can be many colors and patterns. These include white, orange, gray, spotted, and striped. Cats can have long hair, short hair, or no hair at all. Cats are amazing animals. Their bodies, with their retractable claws, flexible spine, sharp canines, and highly developed senses, are perfectly suited to their ways of living. Why does a cheetah need such long legs? Why are tigers striped? Why are cats able to see in the dark? Why do lions live in prides? All of these adaptations help cats to survive. From the snowy mountains of Canada to the hot African plains, cats can be found almost everywhere in the world. But habitat loss, hunting, and other factors have placed them in danger. Of the thirty-six known species of wild cats, at least ten are considered endangered or threatened. Scientists suspect that several more species might be in trouble, but they don t have enough information about them. Cats are some of the best hunters around. They have made many adaptations to stay alive. But they still need our help!
11 Glossary albino domestic melanin nocturnal pride territory an animal that is all white because its body lacks melanin kept as a pet or farm animal by humans chemical that gives skin, eyes, hair, fur, and feathers their color active at night a group of lions the area that an animal thinks of as its own and defends from others tapetum lucidum a membrane of the eye that bounces light back through the retina so an animal can see better in the dark