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mammals of the family Felidae of the order Carnivora. All members of living and fossil species of Felidae have a small head, a lithe and muscular body, short yet powerful legs, and fully or partially retractile claws. Most species have a long tail. Cats range in size from small (domestic cat) to large (lion, tiger). The coat is short; the coat of northern and high mountain species is more downy than that of cats found in the tropics. Cats dwelling in tropical forests often have bright coloration (black spots or stripes on a gray, orange, or smoke-colored background); those in the northern steppes and desert regions are yellow or sand-colored, with a white belly. The most well developed senses are those of sound and sight; the sense of smell is weak in most species. Ancestors of the Felidae were known in the Oligocene epoch, when two subfamilies became distinct: typical cats and sabertooths.
There are 37 species of modern cats, belonging to three genera. The genus Panthera includes the snow leopard, jaguar, lion, and tiger. Felis includes the domestic cat, European wildcat, Bengal tiger, northern lynx, and caracal lynx. The third genus is Acinonyx, which contains the cheetah. In the USSR there are 11 species. Wild members of the family are found on all continents and large islands except Australia, New Guinea, Sulawesi, Antarctica, Greenland, and Madagascar. Cats are found primarily in the tropics. The taiga zone has only tigers, pumas, and lynx, and some Bengal cats (in the Primor'e).
Cats lead a predominantly crepuscular and nocturnal mode of existence. They feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and sometimes insects. Most species hunt alone or with their whole group; lions, however, often hunt with temporary associative groups, or prides. The small species reproduce once a year; only the domestic cat bears young more frequently. The big cats reproduce less than once a year. Small species give birth to five or six young, and the big cats bear only two to four cubs at a time. Cats are sought for their skins or are captured for zoos. In some regions they harm livestock. Tigers and lions are protected species in a number of countries.
REFERENCESBrem, A. Zhizn' zhivotnykh, vol. 5. Moscow, 1941.
Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 2, part 2. Moscow, 1972.
Denis, A. Cats of the World. London, 1964.
N. K. VERESHCHAGIN