Rengger (1/93. 'Saugethiere von Paraguay' 1830 s. 212.) says that the domestic cat, which has been bred for 300 years in Paraguay, presents a striking difference from the European cat; it is smaller by a fourth, has a more lanky body, its hair is short, shining, scanty and lies close, especially on the tail: he adds that the change has been less at Ascension, the capital of Paraguay, owing to the continual crossing with newly imported cats; and this fact well illustrates the importance of separation. The conditions of life in Paraguay appear not to be highly favourable to the cat, for, though they have run half-wild, they do not become thoroughly feral, like so many other European animals. In another part of South America, according to Roulin (1/94. 'Mem. presentes par divers Savans: Acad. Roy. des Sciences' tome 6 page 346. Gomara first noticed this fact in 1554.), the introduced cat has lost the habit of uttering its hideous nocturnal howl. The Rev. W.D. Fox purchased a cat in Portsmouth, which he was told came from the coast of Guinea; its skin was black and wrinkled, fur bluish-grey and short, its ears rather bare, legs long, and whole aspect peculiar. This "negro" cat was fertile with common cats. On the opposite coast of Africa, at Mombas, Captain Owen, R.N. (1/95. 'Narrative of Voyages' volume 2 page 180.) states that all the cats are covered with short stiff hair instead of fur: he gives a curious account of a cat from Algoa Bay, which had been kept for some time on board and could be identified with certainty; this animal was left for only eight weeks at Mombas, but during that short period it "underwent a complete metamorphosis, having parted with its sandy-coloured fur." A cat from the Cape of Good Hope has been described by Desmarest as remarkable from a red stripe extending along the whole length of its back. Throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan archipelago, Siam, Pegu, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length (1/96. J. Crawfurd 'Descript. Dict. of the Indian Islands' page 255. The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail; see Desmarest in 'Encyclop. Nat. Mamm.' 1820 page 233, for some of the other breeds.), often with a sort of knot at the end. In the Caroline archipelago the cats have very long legs, and are of a reddish-yellow colour. (1/97. Admiral Lutke's Voyage volume 3 page 308.) In China a breed has drooping ears. At Tobolsk, according to Gmelin, there is a red-coloured breed. In Asia, also, we find the well-known Angora or Persian breed.

The domestic cat has run wild in several countries, and everywhere assumes, as far as can be judged by the short recorded descriptions, a uniform character. Near Maldonado, in La Plata, I shot one which seemed perfectly wild; it was carefully examined by Mr. Waterhouse (1/98. 'Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle, Mammalia' page 20. Dieffenbach 'Travels in New Zealand' volume 2 page 185. Ch. St. John 'Wild Sports of the Highlands' 1846 page 40.), who found nothing remarkable in it, excepting its great size. In New Zealand according to Dieffenbach, the feral cats assume a streaky grey colour like that of wild cats; and this is the case with the half-wild cats of the Scotch Highlands.

We have seen that distant countries possess distinct domestic races of the cat. The differences may be in part due to descent from several aboriginal species, or at least to crosses with them. In some cases, as in Paraguay, Mombas, and Antigua, the differences seem due to the direct action of different conditions of life. In other cases some slight effect may possibly be attributed to natural selection, as cats in many cases have largely to support themselves and to escape diverse dangers. But man, owing to the difficulty of pairing cats, has done nothing by methodical selection; and probably very little by unintentional selection; though in each litter he generally saves the prettiest, and values most a good breed of mouse- or rat-catchers. Those cats which have a strong tendency to prowl after game, generally get destroyed by traps.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V1 Page 33

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book