Book Preview: A group of small African and Eurasian cats shares the scientific name Felis with house cats.

Am making good progress on the final draft of “50 Facts About Domestic Cats (And Where They Come From).” This is Fact #14. Thanks for your interest and patience!

When Linnaeus set out to classify all life on Earth back in the late 18th century–you have to admire the man’s “can-do” attitude–he named the whole cat family Felis after its most popular member, the domestic cat.

He was Swedish but wrote in Latin–a language that scientists still use for what’s now called Linnaean classification. This system includes a genus name like Felis followed by a species name, say, leo for lions.

Down through the centuries, zoologists have broken down that very broad Felis category as they learned more about the various cats and how each group evolved. There are still some controversies, but almost everyone agrees on these genus names:

  • Felis
  • Lynx
  • Acinonyx (cheetah)
  • Neofelis (clouded leopards)
  • Panthera (the big cats). Lions are now Panthera leo

At the time of writing, there are at least nine other cat groups, depending on which authority you check. The house cat is well settled into Felis and it has four other adorable (but very wild) little companions.

Why “Felis”? Why not “cattus”?

Short answer: Actually, ancient Romans used both words. Perhaps Linnaeus went with “Felis” because another great scholar with a can-do attitude–Pliny the Elder–used it in his late-first-century master work The Natural History.

Details: There will always be mysteries about the house cat. One such puzzle is where cats went right after they left Egypt.

Continue reading


Guest Video: The Salton Sea

A study at the end of June made headlines about earthquake hazard on the San Andreas Fault. The research looked at the area covered by the Salton Sea:

According to news reports, geologists found:

. . . a nearly 15.5-mile-long, sheared zone with two, nearly parallel master faults and hundreds of smaller, rung-like cross faults. . . The discovery . . . reveals the southern tip of the San Andreas Fault changes fairly gradually into the ladder-like Brawley Seismic zone. The structure trends northwest, extending from the well-known main trace of the San Andreas Fault along the Salton Sea’s northeastern shore, to the newly identified East Shoreline Fault Zone on the San Andreas’ opposite edge.

. . .

Future earthquakes in that zone or near the San Andreas Fault could potentially trigger a cascade of earthquakes leading to the overdue major quake scientists expect along the southern San Andreas fault zone . . .

So, perhaps it’s good that the “Riviera” scheme never worked out.

While seismologists scramble over the area to learn more about earthquake hazards, the USGS is monitoring the local volcano situation–which includes five vents discovered in 2013–through the California Volcano Observatory.

Again, not a good place for a resort!

Featured image: 12019, at Pixabay. Public domain.

Guest Videos: Keep on Chuffin’

This is my favorite video out of all the ones I’ve looked at thus far in researching my book (due out this fall/winter) on the cat family:

He’s a very good chuffer.

Actually, there are now two species of clouded leopard recognized – one on mainland Asia and the recently discovered Sunda clouded leopard.

I don’t know which species that is in the video.

If you’re curious why the presenter said “my tigers,” check this out:

Here is a little more information about tigers from the research group associated with the IUCN, the organization that publishes the Red List of endangered species.

Featured image:
Tiger cub, by Steve Wilson. CC BY 2.0.

Citizen Scientists, Cats, and Computers

All cats, big and small, like to keep secrets. It is our task as cat lovers to learn some of those secrets so we can make life even better for these beauties.

The cats don’t make it easy for us. So we fool them.

Today, technology like camera traps and GPS tracking collars collect a lot of data about unsuspecting domestic and wild cats.

Then we laypeople help the experts use these tools to learn more about cats.

Here are a couple examples of citizen science in action.

Cat Tracker

An outdoor cat usually just walks out the door, comes back many hours or days later, and tells no one what it did or where it went.

You’re probably curious about that. So are scientists who want to better understand the social behavior of domestic cats.

They also want to know what effect house cats have on the local wildlife.

You can help their research along, if you live in North Carolina and have an outdoor cat that you can harness (no leash required)

People at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and at North Carolina State University want to enroll a thousand local cats in their Cat Tracker program. As of 2014, they just had forty. (Cooper)

Each cat in the program wears a GPS harness for nine days. You then use your computer to upload that GPS information into the same database that many conservationists around the world use to track zebra and other wildlife.

You do have to pay the equipment cost – currently $62 at Amazon, per the SciStarter Cat Tracker website.

Instead (or in addition), you can fill out a Cat Tracker survey about your cat’s personality and/or send litter box samples to the program.

Would you rather hunt big cats at home with your computer monitor? The conservation organization Panthera has you covered.

Camera CATalogue

Zooniverse is another online citizen science platform like SciStarter. They’re host to Camera CATalogue, a collection of tens of thousands of wildlife images that Panthera and some other international organizations need identified.

Panthera has developed special cameras – called PantheraCams, of course – that take very high quality images of whatever wildlife passes by.

Some of the captures are works of art.

Most just show animals walking around, and some are blank. But it’s not boring.

People who have tried Camera CATalogue say it’s addictive. You never know what you’ll see next! (Braun)

There are about eighty PantheraCams out there, and only about a tenth of the images have made it online (Panthera), so this program is going to be around as long as they can keep it funded.

Europe and Latin America

Cat-related citizen science projects exist in non-English-speaking countries, too,.

For instance, there are ongoing studies of house cats in France.

Proposals have also been made for a study of endangered Mexican jaguars.

All of these projects help scientists directly, but there are indirect benefits, too.

Owners can better protect both their cats and the other neighborhood animals if they know where their pet goes after it leaves the house.

And the more interactions people have with wildlife – even when it’s only through images – the more inclined those will be to heed information about endangered species.

Finally, there are international awards for the best camera-trap images:

Featured image: Bobcats in New Mexico. J. N. Stuart. CC BY 2.0.


Braun, D. M. August 8, 2016. Camera CATalogue: Help cat conservation without going to Africa. National Geographic, Cat Watch. Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Panthera, Camera CATalog.
Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Cooper, C. July 25, 2014. The nine simultaneous lives of cats: Cat Tracker. Discovery Magazine. Last accessed September 19, 2017.

Vergara-Huerta, J. August 18, 2017. Impulsan en Sinaloa programa de Ciencia Ciudadana para salvar el Jaguar. Tercera Vía. Last accessed September 18, 2017, machine translated into English.

The Florida panther and Hurricane Irma

Fact: Hurricane Irma severely disrupted Florida’s wildlife preserves.

September 19, 2017, 4:10 p.m. Pacific: I just found these pictures on the Everglades emergency management team’s Flickr site.

The damage to human infrastructure is tremendous, and no doubt the fragile ecosystem there has suffered. But Irma’s aftermath on nature there appears to be something a panther and its prey could survive.

September 16, 9:02 a.m.:  They did an overflight on Wednesday.  Reportedly, the Everglades mangrove forest, at least near the Snake River, is okay.  That is good news for panthers and their prey.  Lots of damage there, though.

The Everglades Visitor Center, per National Park Service 9/15 update.

Per the National Park Service Irma update last evening, heavy equipment arrived at the Gulf Coast yesterday to help with the Everglades cleanup.  They also say that assessments are ongoing at Big Cypress National Preserve.  No mention of wildlife yet, of course.

Original post:  This post was intended to be the usual brief fact about how well the rare Florida panther survived Hurricane Irma.

I figured that enough time has passed for people to have some idea of how these cats and other wildlife on the mainland fared.

I underestimated Irma’s impact on Florida.

First and foremost, as of September 12, the parks had accounted for all employees except in the Everglades National Park, where damage and power outages had made it impossible to confirm everybody there was okay. (Repanshek)

So the format here will be a live blog. I’ll check in with updates at the top of the post as I have been able to find them online (I’m in Oregon and don’t know anyone on the scene).

Don’t expect very many updates.  The focus of recovery efforts now, of course, is on people and infrastructure. It will take some time for conservationists to get any estimates of Irma’s effects on the mainland wildlife.

I suspect that the panthers and other critters out there did okay, but it would be nice to confirm it.

Here is what I have been able to find today:

    • Panthers aren’t listed here as Florida Key wildlife. Even with bridges around these days, it’s unlikely any of these cats were out there when Irma hit. Panthers live on the mainland, mainly south of the Coosahatchee River.
    • A long-term USGS employee told Tampa Bay News that in thirty years he has never noticed a change in panther movements from tropical weather. That’s encouraging!
    • Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website, Florida panther major locations are in Collier, Glades and Lee counties, but the cats also have a presence in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
    • The key protected areas where you may see them are in Big Cypress National Preserve (no one could get in there as of September 12, per online reports I found), Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS says it is sending crews from Louisiana and Mississippi to open this up again), Fakahatchee State Park (reopened to the public at least for day use by the 13th, per online reports), Picayune Strand State Forest, and Everglades National Park (reportedly hit hard by Irma, with a foot of rain and strong winds).

The Picayune Strand website doesn’t seem to be working just now, but from what little I can see via Google, it looks like parts of it are open to the public.

The Naples Daily News has online updates on the situation in Collier County. I think President Trump is visiting Naples today.

The most complete information on things in Glades County that I could find online is the Glades County Emergency Management Facebook page.

The News-Press reports that Lee County is slowly getting back to normal.

Featured image: Florida panther by skeeze at Pixabay. Public domain.

Repanshek, K. September 12, 2017. National Park Service assessing Hurricane Irma damage to parks in Florida, Caribbean. National Parks Traveler. Last accessed September 14, 2017.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) updates post Irma:

The Iberian Lynx – A Survivor

There’s endangered as in “let’s put this species on the list” and then there’s endangered as in “we could only get fourteen into vehicles before the wildfire smoke got too thick; we had to leave the other thirteen behind.”

The Iberian lynx is in that second group.

    • Good news: There are more than twenty-seven lynx on the Iberian peninsula – this particular emergency happened on June 25th at a single breeding center. One cat died of stress, but the others, including the thirteen that couldn’t be evacuated, survived. (Lyne)
    • Bad news: In 2016, camera traps counted a total of only 483 wild Iberian lynx. And that June wildfire destroyed part of one of their remaining two wild habitats. (Lyne; Martín-Arroyo)

The other major members of this adorably bearded, ear-tufted, and furry-footed group of middle-sized cats – bobcats, the Canada lynx, and the Eurasian lynx – are doing all right.

Why the problem in Iberia?

This is one of the lynx species that specializes in rabbits. Unfortunately, the bunnies in its region are especially vulnerable to some diseases, so finding prey has been a problem. (Rodríguez and Calzada)

Iberian lynxes are also very well attuned to their habitat, which people are disrupting as the population grows. Other human influences including poaching and the spread of roads. (Martín-Arroyo; Rodríguez and Calzada)

Their future is still uncertain, but if not for the ongoing conservation programs, Iberian lynx would go extinct in less than fifty years. (Rodríguez and Calzada)

Featured image: Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Programme. CC BY 3.0 ES

Iberlince website (English version). . Accessed multiple pages August 14, 2017.

Lyne, N. 2017. “After a month in the wild, tired and thin, Fran the lynx makes it home.” El País in English. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Martín-Arroyo, J. 2017. “La población de linces supera los 500 ejemplares pese a los atropellos.” El País. Accessed August 14, 2017, translated into English by online machine.

Planelles, M. 2017. “El incendio de Doñana golpea a uno de los núcleos de población del lince.” El País. Accessed August 14, 2017, translated into English by online machine.

Rodríguez, A., and Calzada, J. 2015. Lynx pardinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T12520A50655794. Downloaded on August 14, 2017.