Domestic cats often resemble their larger, wilder counterparts — with black, striped or tawny fur that presumably helps the big hunters blend into the landscape. For scientists, the genes involved in the evolution of cats’ color patterns have been equally well camouflaged. But a new study in Science reveals a mutation shared by housecats and cheetahs, which may explain how the cat got its stripes — or, in this case, its blotches.
The sharp, evenly spaced stripes of the tabby cat are among the most common of coat patterns. In some tabbies, however, the stripes look more like long, irregular swirls. Although fairly common in domestic cats, this pattern (called “blotched” by geneticists and cat fanciers) is unusual in the wild. In fact, cheetahs with the blotched pattern were initially thought to be a separate species: They were crowned with the name king cheetahs to distinguish them from the more common, spotted kind.