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Lions, tigers, cats and others are members of the Felidae (feline) family. They are the most strictly carnivorous of the nine families in the order Carnivora. The first felids emerged during the Eocene, about 40 million years ago. The most familiar feline is the domestic cat or house cat (subspecies Felis silvestris catus), which first became associated with humans between 7000 and 4000 years ago. Its wild relatives still live in Africa and western Asia, although habitat destruction has restricted their range.

Other well-known members of the feline family include big cats such as the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, and cheetah (which appears to be descended from the small cats), and other wild cats such as the lynx, puma, caracal, and bobcat. All felines, the small domestic cat included, are superpredators capable of destroying almost any creature smaller than themselves.

Some lesser known members of the feline family include hybrids bred in captivity such as the liger, and the tigon. The liger remains as the largest cat in the feline family, even surpassing the size of the tiger (it should be noted, however, that the tiger remains the largest feline found in nature).

There are 37 known species of felines in the world today that all descended from a common ancestor c. 10.8 million years ago. This species originated in Asia and spread across continents by crossing land bridges. As reported in the journal Science, testing of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA by Warren Johnson and Stephen O'Brien of the U.S. National Cancer Institute demonstrated that ancient cats evolved into eight main lineages that diverged in the course of at least 10 migrations (in both directions) from continent to continent via the Bering land bridge and Isthmus of Panama. The Panthera species are the oldest and the Felis species are the youngest. They estimated that 60 percent of the modern species of cats developed within the last million years.

Prior to this discovery, biologists had been largely unable to establish a family tree of cats from the fossil record because the fossils of different cat species all look very much alike, differing primarily in size.

The felines' closest relatives are thought to be the civets, hyenas, and mongooses. All feline species share a genetic anomaly that prevents them from tasting sweetness.

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