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a genus of predatory mammals of the family Felidae. They range in size from small (European wildcat and Felis ornata) to average and large (northern lynx and puma). Approximately 20 subgenera are distinguished according to skull structure, fur coloration, and geographical distribution. For example, the subgenus Leopardus contains the ocelot of South America, the subgenus Otocolobus includes the manul of Middle and South Asia, and the subgenus Prionailurus is represented by the Bengal cat. The African wildcat (Felis libyca), which seems to be the ancestor of all breeds and local varieties of domestic cats, is distributed in the Mediterranean region and Middle Asia. Domestic cats differ from wild cats primarily in their fur length and coloration.
It was formerly believed that the domestication of cats first occurred in ancient Egypt where cats were considered sacred and were mummified. However, it is more likely that the domestication of cats took place independently among the ancient peoples of the Caucasus and the Middle East, where remains of such cats have been uncovered in layers of settlements of the Bronze Age and the Neolithic period.
The long-haired breeds of cats include the Angora, the Persian, and the Siberian (a uniquely Russian breed). Short-haired cats include the Siamese and the Manx; there are also other short-haired cats of various colors, which are raised in many European countries.
Domestic cats are very useful in destroying such rodents as mice and rats in houses and warehouses; however, they are harmful to gardens because they prey on beneficial birds.
In the broad sense the Russian word koshka, which denotes the genus, also means cat. The term “cat” is applied to all representatives of the family Felidae—both extinct and living (for example, the sabertooths, cave lions, and domestic Siamese cats).
N. K. VERESHCHAGIN