Solving The Mystery Of The Cat
Even though I don’t have one myself, I’m definitely a cat person. Sure dogs are fun, and there’s no doubt they dish out much more unconditional love than cats, but my reasoning has always been that if I wanted a child I’d go and have one myself. Because that’s basically what a dog is: a child. They need a ton of guidance or else they’ll misbehave, and let’s not overlook the fact that many breeds constantly need attention, reassurance and you have to let them outside to go to the bathroom. To be clear, I’m not dogging on dogs, I’m just explaining why I like cats better.
And I think that’s why I like cats most of all. Because while dogs need masters, cats are looking for roommates.
But that presents the question…why are cats even around? Because while dogs provide protection and were bred for very specific, utilitarian reasons, there seem to be few good reasons why cats were welcomed into our homes.
Scientific American attempts to answer that question and explores why we love them…and why they tolerate us:
Considering that small cats do little obvious harm, people probably did not mind their company. They might have even encouraged the cats to stick around when they saw them dispatching mice and snakes.
Cats may have held other appeal, too. Some experts speculate that wildcats just so happened to possess features that might have preadapted them to developing a relationship with people.
In particular, these cats have â€œcuteâ€ featuresâ€”large eyes, a snub face and a high, round forehead, among othersâ€”that are known to elicit nurturing from humans. In all likelihood, then, some people took kittens home simply because they found them adorable and tamed them, giving cats a first foothold at the human hearth.
So because cats have more human like features, they were accepted into our homes? Interesting theory.
Still, I think there was a much more utilitarian reason, and that is garbage and pest control…
Early settlements in the Fertile Crescent between 9,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, created a completely new environment for any wild animals that were sufficiently flexible and inquisitive (or scared and hungry) to exploit it. The house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, was one such creature. Archaeologists have found remains of this rodent, which originated in the Indian subcontinent, among the first human stores of wild grain from Israel, which date to around 10,000 years ago. The house mice could not compete well with the local wild mice outside, but by moving into peopleâ€™s homes and silos, they thrived.
It is almost certainly the case that these house mice attracted cats. But the trash heaps on the outskirts of town were probably just as great a draw, providing year-round pickings for those felines resourceful enough to seek them out. Both these food sources would have encouraged cats to adapt to living with people; in the lingo of evolutionary biology, natural selection favored those cats that were able to cohabitate with humans and thereby gain access to the trash and mice.