No One Agrees On The Domestic Cat’s Scientific Name


Scientific names for cats have varied ever since Swedish zoologist Karl Linnaeus, back in 1758, first named the whole cat family Felis, giving each species second and third names. Lions, for example, were Felis leo, while common cats were Felis catus.

But even Linnaeus had trouble sorting out those small cats, which do all look very much alike.

House cats were fairly easy–Felis catus domesticus. And their Old-World wild relatives, which are virtually untameable in Europe, seemed distinct, too–Felis catus ferus.

But Linnaeus also made what we would call errors today. For instance, he thought that Angoras and tortoiseshell cats were separate subspecies–F. catus angorensis and F. catus hispanicus, respectively. We know that they’re the same species with two different looks that cat fanciers sometimes combine together.


Angora tortie threefer

A silly Angora (left, by lylejk, CC BY 2.0); a sensible tortoiseshell cat (right, by Mariamichelle, at Pixabay, public domain); and a black smoked tortie Angora that would have blown Linnaeus’ mind (Daly69, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0).


Once the taxonomy ball started rolling, more zoologists went back over the cat family. Again and again, they rearranged it into various logical groupings according to the theories of the day. After the start of the 20th century, this process was improved with insights gained from genetics.

Today, according to one of the most recent taxonomic arrangements (see this 2017 PDF for details), the cat family Felidae now has 14 genus names, not just the single Felis.

Lions are Panthera leo, and according to this source, the domestic cat is Felis catus, per Opinion 2027 of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 2003.

However, that opinion can also be taken to mean that house cats are “domestic derivatives” of the wildcat–Felis silvestris–and indeed they were wildcats until just after the last ice age, when they met us.

So you’ll see some zoologists refer to them as Felis silvestris catus in highly-cited papers like this one.

Why should laypeople care about this academic tempest in a teacup? Because its outcome might undercut every conservation law that now protects wildcats, which are endangered species.

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What is natural ruby?


This post, based on something I wrote for Helium back in 2011, was first blogged here in 2013. However, it’s a natural tie-in to yesterday’s post about chromium.


The loose gemstone that Alfred the butler described to Master Bruce in The Dark Knight as “a ruby the size of a tangerine” would have been much less interesting had he been talking about “a lump of aluminum oxide with some chromium in it.”

English: Ruby and Kyanite Locality: Winza, Mpw...

Ruby and Kyanite Locality: Winza, Mpwapwa, Mpwapwa District, Dodoma region, Tanzania Exquisite, lustrous and gemmy ruby crystals in matrix, measuring up to 2 cm, together with small, blue crystals of kyanite. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Guest Videos: Chromium, A Critical Mineral


Most people think of one or more of the following when they hear the word “chromium”:

  • Shiny, shiny chrome
  • The open-source platform underlying Google’s browser
  • Health supplements
  • The “stainless” part of stainless steel
  • Chemistry class

These are all common enough (plus the software has nothing to do with the physical element). So why does the United States call chromium a strategic mineral?

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Guest Video: Discoverers of Earth’s Deep Layering


At the end of June, researchers suggested adding some new details to the present scientific model of Earth’s outer central core; it’s rather arcane, but the news is a good reminder for us all to honor those who accurately imagined the Earth’s structure without the aid of supercomputers or other modern tools.

These thinkers were among those who first drew the correct images of our planet’s inner structure, using math, logic, basic seismological tools (in some cases), and physics:



Guest Video: The Ocean


I never cared all that much about the ocean until researching the book on how cats evolved. Their story goes back–well, it goes back to the general time of the K/T (K/Pg) extinction if you want to also include the evolution of carnivorans (and I do).

Over the last 66 million years, this planet has had some dramatic changes, and my key to realizing that was this paper. (Don’t feel that you must read that, though the origin story of sequoias is pretty interesting. I’ll include parts of it in the ebook series.)

Think of that as the most basic approach to the ocean and climate – reading what has happened by studying drill cores of abyssal Pacific Ocean mud.

But it’s a good introduction to recent news from the world of science that they have made computer models detailed enough to measure the interaction between ocean eddies and the atmosphere. That’s the ultra-high-definition approach that is shaping meteorology and climate science now and in the immediate future.

Most of us, though, just want a general overview of the ocean and how it affects the planet’s weather and climate.




Featured image: Gabi Agu, CC BY 2.0.


Guest Videos: What Is Lightning?


When thunder roars, go indoors! — words of wisdom from James Spann and other meteorologists.



Note that on Earth, lightning is most frequent in equatorial regions.

For almost 40 years–ever since Voyager passed the planet Jupiter–scientists have wondered why lightning is more frequent at Jupiter’s poles. It otherwise seems to work pretty much the same way as terrestrial lightning.

Thanks to data from the Juno mission, they may have figured it out now.

Meanwhile, back on Earth–
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Guest Video: The Falcon and Dragon Dance Begins


Update, July 11, 2018: I so enjoy the 21st-century luxury of having spacecraft tweet images from their latest position millions of miles away!

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And here is the “Dragon Palace” in 3D!

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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has arrived at Asteroid Ryugu!