It is thought that cats originally evolved around 200 million years ago from reptiles. The shape and composition of the teeth of modern cats is fairly similar to that of a creodont (a primitive fish-eating mammal that lived during the Paleocene and Miocene periods – from around 65 million years ago to around 5 million years ago) or a miacid (a primitive carnivore from the Paleocene and Eocene – from around 65 million years ago to around 33 million years ago).
Around 48 million years ago, the miacid divided into “miacidae” and “Viverravidae”. The former developed over time into the Arctoidea/Canoidea group whose members include the bear and the dog. The latter developed into the Aeluroidea/Felidea group whose members included the cat, hyena, civet, and mongoose, and the Nimravidae whose cat-like members have not survived into the modern world.
There is still much argument about the best way to classify the various types of cats and wildcats. Studies on mitochondrial DNA suggest that ancient felidea evolved into eight main lineages that diverged during a series of migrations over a long period. These eight groups are:
- Panthera, Uncia, Neofelis (panthers, lions tigers, jaguars, leopards)
- Pardofelis, Catopuma (marble cat, bay cat, Asian golden cat)
- Leptailurus, Caracal, Profelis (serval, caracal/lynx, African golden cat)
- Leopardus (small South and Central American spotted cats such as the ocelot)
- Lynx (lynx, bobcat)
- Puma, Acinonyx (puma/cougar, cheetah)
- Prionailurus, Otocolobus (Asian small cats, manul/Pallas’ cat)
- Felis (a few types of wildcat, and the domestic cat)
However, it is also suggested that there should be three geni of cats:
- Felis – all of the cats that do not roar except the cheetah.
- Panthera – cats that roar (lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars).
- Acinonyx – the cheetah (who do not roar and lack fully retractable claws).