Cats, a very uniform animal group, are sometimes classified into big and small species, distinguished by a surprising but fundamental difference: the big cats's roar. This awe-inspiring sound is actually due to the absence of a section of hyoid bone on each side of the big cat's throat. Normally this bone is made up of two symmetrical chains of bones attaching the base of the tongue to the skull. The joints linking these little bones control movements connected with swallowing and the production of vocal sounds.
In the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards or panthers, and jaguars), one of these bones is replaced on each side by a pliable sheath of cartilage that allows greater movement of the larynx, and thus the roar. Cats with ordinary hyoid bones can only mew caterwaul.
Taxonomists, specialists in scientific classification of animals, classify the cat family in different ways. Three genera are used here: Panthera for big Cats, Acynonyx for the cheetah, and Felis for all other feline species. Naturalists have had a hard time classifying some species because many avoid man. This is one reason why classification vary.
All species of Felis are solitary, generally nocturnal, and frequently arboreal. They are predominantly meat-eaters, although the Asian flat-headed cat relies heavily on fruit and the fishing cat, also found in the Far East, is so partial to fish that it catches them in its claws. All cats have well-developed sight and very sharp hearing, which allow them to make successful hunting forays at dawn and dusk. They have a strong sense of smell, which is used more for detecting and communicating with other animals than for hunting.
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A single cat usually has several lairs in its territory, one of which is used by the female to give birth. The male and female will live together only during the mating season, and few males actually take part in rearing the young. The litter may number from one to six cubs depending on the species. All feline offspring are born blind but covered with fur.
Both the wild and domestic cat belong to one family, the Felidae. The subfamily Felinae includes Ocelots and Wild Cats which consist of cats living in parts of Europe. Africa and Asia. The largest member is the Jungle Cat which can weigh up to 35 lb. This subfamily includes the following genera: Acinonyx, Caracal, Catopuma, Felis, Leopardus, Leptailurus, Lynx, Pardofelis, Profelis, Prionailurus and Puma.
The Genus Felis includes domestic cat (Felis catus) and the following species and subspecies:
- Felis catus (domestic cat)
- Felis chaus (jungle cat)
- Felis margarita (sand cat)
- Felis nigripes (black-footed cat)
- Felis silvestris (wild cat)
- Felis silvestris bieti (Chinese desert cat)
- Felis silvestris cafra (Southern African wildcat)
- Felis silvestris libyca (Near Eastern wildcat)
- Felis silvestris ornata (Central Asian wildcat)
- Felis silvestris silvestris (European wildcat)