It’s reigning cats, not dogs — canids go extinct as felids nab their prey

14 Aug 2015

Cats play a key role in modern society, making sure us humans are aware of a species entirely uninterested in our existence. We’re not the centre of the universe, cats prove as much.

We’ve always wondered, though, what role they play with regards dogs. Can it be as simple as the common phrase, ‘fighting like cats and dogs’?

Well, if a new piece of research is anything to go by, perhaps so.

Scientists from Sweden, Brazil and Switzerland looked at 2,000 fossils of ancestors in the dog and cat families and discovered that the latter’s introduction brought about the extinction of 40 species of wild canids many years ago.

Cats and dogs

Dogs originally come from North America and thrived there around 22 million years ago, when more than 30 species of canids – some who hunted in packs, some who ambushed – roamed the planes.

Then felids turned up and wrecked the buzz, stealing prey and territory as canids failed to adapt to the new competition.

Cougar pouncing

Daniele Silvestro, one of the authors of the new report, thinks this introduction, more so than climate change or the dawn of modern man, had a chilling effect on dogs.

Now, just nine species of wild dog exist in North America, none of which are ambush predators.

A long-running rivalry

“We usually expect climate changes to play an overwhelming role in the evolution of biodiversity,” said Silvestro, lead author and a member of University of Gothenurg’s biological and environmental sciences department.

“Instead, competition among different carnivore species proved to be even more important for canids.”

What we’re left with are dogs like wolves, who hunt in packs and exhaust their prey by chasing over long distances.

What we’re missing are dogs that ambushed prey, similar to how a leopard, today, kills. Silvestro, surprisingly, pins this on retractable claws, offering cats a longer hunting life with tools that didn’t wear down as fast.

“The cats have retractable claws which they only pull out when they catch their prey,” he said in The Independent.

“This means they don’t wear them out and they can keep them sharp. But the dogs can’t do this, so they are at a disadvantage to the cats in an ambush situation.”

If you can’t hunt while your competitors still can, your stock pile of prey dwindles as the better-evolved hunters bulk up.

This, according to the report, signalled the end of many species of canid.

Main image and body image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic