Cats evolved in the borderland between forest and plain, according to most authorities I have read.
Some of those cats’ descendants like life in the trees —
Catch that shot of the hind paws turning 180°? Only clouded leopards and margays can do that.
— many prefer the ground, where trees and bushes give them cover.
That spotted leopard shown briefly at the end is so massive that I thought it might be a jaguar, but this production is set in India. The black leopard will have to work hard.
All of these stalk-and-pounce predators (Werdelin et al.) are built for stealth and short bursts of speed.
Canids, in contrast, with their long legs, evolved to run and rule the open plains.
But do they rule?
Out there is a long-legged cat. Canids must deal with Family Felidae’s only pursuit predator:
Let’s watch cheetahs in action through one of the many online compilations:
See how the cat trips its prey sometimes? Cheetahs have very large dew claws precisely for that purpose.
Okay, it’s not really clear who was chasing who at the close of that warthog pursuit — the cat might have gotten a bit more than it bargained for there!
Now cheetahs are in Africa and southern Asia, according to the Cat Specialist Group.
There has never been any sign of modern cheetahs in the wilds of North America.
I don’t know where PBS was going with that ending, but let’s call the prehistoric American cat Miracinonyx rather than “cheetah.”
Because I’ve seen some fiery scientific disagreements in journals about whether it was a cheetah or a puma (to which modern cheetahs are closely related).
Apparently the difference is not obvious from available fossils.
But this page shows what a puma pursuit predator might have looked like.
So, nyah nyah, Canidae. Cats, past and present, have crossed over and successfully done your pursuit thing.
What crossover have you got to match that — “arboreal” canids?
A little lagniappe:
Featured image: JonathanC Photography/Shutterstock
Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, 59-82.