While Fluffy is off fighting Godzilla, let’s sneak in a look at Fido’s closest relatives (to match our visit with Feliformia yesterday):
Just looking at that still image covering the video, see how the canid’s nose and muzzle are just like a bear’s? Seals, walruses, skunks, and many others are in Caniformia, too. It’s such a large and varied group that even a playlist barely does them justice.
Now, the animal world is so huge that scientists must specialize in order to study it.
As a layperson, I have to be even more careful about sticking to my focus — how cats evolved.
This is doable (and fun), for instance, by looking at some basic interactions between cats and dogs, like this one involving the Okavango leopard and her cub that we saw yesterday:
This and other types of competition between these two very different groups has been going on for a long time:
Sources are linked at the YouTube site
This is one of several good online videos about Carnivora — both caniforms and feliforms — but in all of them the terms roll over you like a bulldozer.
That’s paleontology for you.
It makes writing about cat evolution in plain English a challenge.
Names are very important to the boffins.
As I understand it (not very well), they use two very different ways to classify fossils and figure out evolutionary relationships (and try to show that in the scientific name):
- Systematics: This used to be the only way to do it. It involves extremely careful measurements of fossils and identification of shared features.
That’s the sort of thing they’re referencing in the video with mention of ear bones and so forth.
- Phylogenetics: DNA is clear-cut evidence of an evolutionary link, but it decays rapidly after death and is rarely available for fossil critters.
Of more use is the DNA in living beings today. I think phylogenetics is a statistical analysis technique that follows this DNA (“genetics”) back in time to build a family tree (“phylo”) of whatever beings you’re interested in, complete with branches and nodes (common ancestors).
That’s how they worked out the relationships, mentioned in the video, between pangolins, creodonts, and carnivorans.
But it’s a summer Saturday afternoon and who wants to think about lab work in this heat?
Here’s some less quantitative but interesting info on:
- “How dogs came to run the world”
- Hypercarnivores and “Foods your cat should never eat” (yes, dog food is on that list)
Bonus video: Fetch, Sting!
Featured image: Wolf, by Hillebrand Breuker/Shutterstock; Jaguar, by Jiri Hrebicek/Shutterstock