The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Cat

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CAT, a predatory animal of the family Felidæ, (q.v. for physical characteristics). All feline animals are “cats” in the broader sense; but in the more restricted and common usage the name refers to the smaller, long-tailed, typical members of the genus Felis. The type is the wildcat (F. catus) of Europe and western Asia, but now extinct in Great Britain, and very rare except in the wilder forests of Germany, Austria and eastward. It is somewhat larger and of stouter build than the domestic cat; its body is yellowish gray, with a dark line along the back, and many darkish stripes on the sides and across the legs; its tail, of moderate length, is ringed and tipped with blackish; and the soles of the feet are black. It is a fierce animal, preying upon anything it is able to overcome, goes abroad chiefly at night, and makes its lair in hollow trees and crannies among rocks, and is almost untamable. This brief description of habits will answer for most of the other cats to be mentioned, varying with their diverse habitats; but some of the others have shown themselves far more amenable to domestication. It should be noted that the American “wildcat” is not this species, but a very different one — the short-tailed lynx (q.v.).

Mivart enumerates in his monograph 36 species of these smaller cats, but some of them are probably mere varieties of others; and we can here mention only a few of the better known ones, larger descriptions of which may be found under their names. The most important one is the Egyptian or Caffre cat (F. libyca), the main source of our household pets, described in the article Cats, Domestic. Another important African species is the widely distributed serval (q.v.) whose fur is valuable. A reddish-brown species, called the golden-haired (F. rutila), and two or three others, little known, inhabited the West African forests. Asia has many varieties of cats, some of which are of large size. Thus the spotted cat (F. tristis) of the interior of China has a body nearly three feet long; and nearly as big is the handsome, spotted and striped fishing cat (q.v.) of eastern India and the Malayan Peninsula. Others of note are the leopard cat (q.v.) of Bengal and eastward; the common Indian jungle cat or chaus (q.v.); the little rusty-gray jungle cat (F. rubiginosus), which is the smallest of its tribe; the Manul of northeastern Asia; the flat-headed Malayan cat (F. planiceps), which is uniformly brown in hue; the marbled cat (F. marmorata) , richly ornamented with wavy, irregular lines and blotches of color, and the bay or golden cat (F. aurata) of northern India, Malaya and the East Indies. This last animal is of special interest as it is believed to be the parent stock of the Siamese domestic cat, which was formerly reserved for royalty alone. Its fur is pale golden-chestnut in color, becoming bay along the back; the throat and under parts are white, while the face is strikingly ornamented with stripes of black, white and orange.

America has several species of wildcats besides the large jaguar (q.v.) and the puma or cougar (q.v.); those of North America are more properly defined as lynxes (see Lynx), but Central and South America have several typical felines. Of these the ocelot, the margay, the eyra and the jaguarondi, are described elsewhere under their names. A very distinctive and well-known species of the plains' region south of Brazil is known as grass cat, pajero and pampas or grass cat (q.v.). See Cheeta, Felidæ; Lynx.

Bibliography.— Eliot, ‘Monograph of the Felidæ’ (folio, colored plates, London 1878); Jerdon, ‘Mammals of British India’ (London 1865); Anderson, ‘Zoology of Egypt’ (London 1902); Mivart, ‘The Cat’ (New York 1892); Hamilton, E., ‘The Wildcat of Europe’ (London 1896); Hamilton, J. S., ‘Animal Life in Africa’ (New York 1912) and Cassell's, the Royal and the Standard Natural Histories.

Ernest Ingersoll.