A spacecraft has found definite signs of life on a habitable world!
Well, it was Earth and the craft was a probe named Galileo that flew past its home in 1990 for an equipment check before sailing on to explore the Solar System as far as Jupiter. (Here’s how that turned out.)
This isn’t from Galileo, but it is definitely cool. In 2020 NASA turned some of its data on Earth into music and released the video. Check out which instrument is “playing” atmosphere, water, etc., at the YouTube page.
Still, congratulations to the rocket scientists!
And even though our focus is on how cats evolved, we do need to look at Earth and ask the basic questions: where did it come from? What makes our planet such a good stage for, and cast member in, that ensemble play we call Life?
Only then will details in later chapters make sense, for instance, why cats have four legs and a long tail (mammal predators do have other options); the whole cat-dog thing and whether T. Rex ate any of their direct ancestors; why cats have pretty fur but scary claws and teeth (compared to our own flat fingernails and chompers), and so forth.
No, seriously. Have you ever really looked at one of these before?
The kitty doesn’t have to be Fluffy, although house cats are a lot easier to study at home than, say, mountain lions or tigers.
Believe it or not, apart from size and a few lifestyle-related anatomical details, you do have a little mountain lion/tiger there!
That’s because all members of family Felidae are built alike. (Turner and Anton)
What is a cat?
This information is from Kitchener et al., Wright and Walters, and some fun hours spent watching house cats — my own and friends’ cats.
The long feline body is much more supple than that of a gray wolf (Fido’s closest relative; I use wolves for comparison because dogs have been domesticated longer and in many cases don’t look much like their forebear now; outside the show ring, Fluffy still resembles its African wildcat ancestor in many ways).
Have you ever wondered why the spring season in both hemispheres feels as old as forever and as young as a newborn baby — at the same time?
Evolution goes back billions of years, but new possibilities open up whenever life awakens and reproduces itself.
On a related note, ever wonder about how cats evolved? Or how closely related house cats — the “lions in our living room” — really are to the big cats?
And what about those saber-toothed cats?
Earth’s apex predators have gone from T. Rex & Company to today’s lions, tigers, and other carnivorous mammals (including domestic cats, which are apex small predators in most human-dominated habitats).