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What came first, the Cat or the Dog?

This is a question which has kept scientists busy for decades! As well as working out the wider family tree of the carnivores.

2 cats and 2 dogs in

How do they do scientists work out the wider family tree of the carnivores?

Scientists compare the observable features of different species, as well as their DNA, to work out how closely they are related to each other. They put all this information into computer programmes, which produce family trees. It’s by looking at these family trees, you can work out when a species, or groups of species evolved. Fossils also help, if you know the age of the rock they’re found in. 

I have used the attached scientific paper to see when the cat family (Felidae) branched off within the carnivore family tree to become their own group, compared to the family of dog-like mammals (Canidae). It seems the that the cat family branched off first, 10.3 million years ago, before the family of dog-like mammals, 7.8 million years ago.  Have a look at the bar chart in Figure 3 that shows this (‘divtime’ and ‘Beast’ are the computer programmes used to work the family trees and these timings out), and Figure 2 shows the family tree.  So it seems the cat family evolved first!

However, it’s a different story when it comes to when humans domesticated cats and dogs. This is hard to find out about, but a burial of a man alongside an 8 month old cat is the oldest known evidence of cat domestication so far, at 9500 years old. With dogs, new evidence is coming to light all the time, but it’s thought its likely to be between 20-40,000 years ago! These videos are brilliant  - do check them out!

Cat domestication

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYPJzQppANo


Dog domestication

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDt0HKSdRRw


I hope this helps, thanks for the great question!
Sally Collins, with help from Chris Hughes, Curatorial and Collections Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology.