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A Guide to Cats

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What is a Cat?
Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Photo © Matthew Gough

Cats are graceful, efficient predators that belong to the Family Felidae (a family known commonly as 'felids'). The cat family is diverse and includes the familiar domestic cat, lions, tigers, ocelots, jaguars, caracals, leopards, pumas, lynxes, and many other groups. Cats have muscular bodies and are stealthy hunters armed with acute eyesight, great aqility, and a sharp set of teeth.

Cats are superb hunters. Some felids can take down prey that are much larger than themselves, providing evidence of their well-honed skills as predators. Cats hunt using several methods. Some species lie in wait until an unfortunate animal crosses the cat's path and then pounce upon it for the kill. Other cats actively stalk their prey, take up position for attack, and charge in for the capture. Most cats are well camouflaged, with stripes or spots that let them blend into the surrounding vegetation and shadows. (Fahey and Meyers 2000).

Cats inhabit a wide variety of habitats including coasts, deserts, forests, grasslands, and mountains. They have colonized almost every corner of the globe with the exceptions of Australia, Greenland, Iceland, New Zealand, Antarctica, Madagascar, and remote oceanic islands. Note that domestic cats have been introduced into many regions once void of cats (Fahey and Meyers 2000).

Most cats are solitary animals outside of the breeding season. Lions are an exception to this rule though, they form long-term social groups called prides. Prides are usually made up of 4-6 related adult lions and their cubs.

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