; suborder Fissipedia, superfamily Feloidea)
A family that comprises the extant and extinct cats, the most specialized of all carnivorous mammals. The brain is large, with large olfactory centres and cerebral hemispheres which overlap the cerebellum. The jaws are powerful and cannot be rotated (as for chewing). The incisors are in a straight line across the jaws, the canines are long, and the cheek teeth are reduced in number, the carnassials being well developed for shearing. The skeleton is specialized for leaping. There are five digits in the fore limbs, four in the hind limbs, all clawed. The claws are retractile in most species, but not in Acinonyx jubatus (cheetah). The gait is digitigrade. The cat family had diverged from the stem family of the Carnivora, the Miacidae, in Eocene times and cats were more or less modern in appearance by the Oligocene. Until the Pliocene, ‘sabretooth’ and ‘false sabretooth’ forms are known, and probably it was from the latter that the present-day cat, with much reduced canines, was derived during the Pliocene. Cats are divided into several genera: Acinonyx, Felis, Panthera (or Leo), and Neofelis (N. nebulosa is the clouded leopard) are generally recognized, but some authorities separate Leopardus (ocelot and margay), Herpailurus (jaguarundi), Prionailurus (leopard-cat and fishing-cat), Puma (puma), and others as genera distinct from Felis in which they are otherwise included. Felids are terrestrial and/or arboreal, most feeding on higher vertebrates but some on invertebrates, fish, and fruit. They are distributed throughout the world except for some oceanic islands, Australasia, and Madagascar. There is controversy whether Cryptoprocta (fossa), of Madagascar, should also be placed in the Felidae; it is customarily assigned to the Viverridae.
Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.