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I am developing an antlered cat, and looking for some help determining the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of certain physical characteristics.

The world is earth-like, and this particular species is only found on one island nation. The creature starts off very much like a cougar: 36 in to top of shoulders, large muscular body, obligate carnivore (meaning they only consume meat). I intend to have 3 sub species a shaggy kind, a sleek kind, then a mix (think Clydesdale with a beard)

I am looking for some insight on a few of the following:

Paw vs. Hoof

Level of sociability (I don't want a solitary creature, but not a large herd either)

Advantages of different styles of antlers (can go in to gender of antlered species i.e. female reindeer keep their antlers past "molting" season whereas males do not vs. moose)

Presence of mammary glands? (I'm not even sure if I know if deer/moose suckle their young)

Since they are an animal of prey, how would humans in this world see them? Majestic creatures, something to be feared?

Could a determined young sprite domesticate them, and if so would they be beasts of burden or for the purpose of food production?

(First post, hope I'm able to get this on topic)

Edit

What I have discovered about this animal:

Antlers are created via keratin production (similar to the North American Pronghorn), are vestigial. As well with the similarities to that species they are an even-toed ungulate, the toes having evolved like those of a pig (with non-retracting claws). Humans fear them, so they are not hunted for their meat. Not uncommon for two females to band together after litters are born,creating a small herd of 5-10 for half the year.

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    $\begingroup$ You ask about a cat with antlers, then go on to talk about basically a felinish deer. (and yes all deer, moose, elk etc. suckle their young). I think you need to clarify what you are really looking for here $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 12 '15 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ What evolutionary advantage would antlers give a predator? Seems to me an antlered creature would be a less effective predator than the same creature without antlers. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 12 '15 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I want to figure out most of the physical attributes before I create an official taxonomy. Also I'm asking the question because I'm not sure what this creature is yet!! $\endgroup$ – Cyrious Mar 12 '15 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ How do you have a prey species that only eats meat? A scavenger? $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 12 '15 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Really this question needs to pick one of the 6 questions, ask that, and ask other questions for the other parts. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 12 '15 at 22:19
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Paw Vs. Hoof

Paws are good for grabbing and going over not-flat surfaces. The ability of the digits to spread helps increase grip. Hooves, though are great for locomotion because they are tough and can dig in. You can get an almost-cross, like what you get with mountain goats, shown below.Hoof? Paw? Barbara Neville on Pinterest shows you!

Social But Not

The benefits of being social are usually best seen in herd animals. Social Animals can get these benefits:

  • More Eyes Looking for Predators/Food
  • Support network to care for the sick, young
  • More individuals to repel predators
  • Multiple individuals to complete a task, such as hunting or colony-building
  • Social Learning

Social animals also get these downsides:

  • More mouths to feed. This can be really hard on predators, and is speculated that this drives most large cats to be solitary hunters. There are exceptions, such as lions.
  • A "pecking order:" if you do not have what it takes to be on top, you're treated worse.

These creatures could be social, but simply not in large groups. They could travel in family groups like whales or elephants. Small social groups are not unknown in the animal kingdom. Grey Wolves, for instance, usually have around 5-11 members in a group, but can get larger.

Those Antlers

The wikipedia article here does a good job of describing general uses for antlers. For your cats, they could perform several functions:

  • Mating Display. Larger (and more inconvenient) ones attract all the lady cats.
  • Residual from earlier times. These antlers do not actually help the creature or do anything, but like wisdom teeth, are vestiges from an earlier time. (Evolution does not occur over one generation!)
  • A Lure/Camouflage. Perhaps these cats hunt prey which, themselves, have antlers. Having antlers to mimic your prey may help these cats get close enough to strike.

Mammary Glands

Humans are a little odd because we're upright. The mammary glands for us are on our chests. Mammary glands for most other mammals, especially the four legged kind, appear on what we would call the stomach (between the rib cage and the pelvis). You can see this very easily on cows, who have specialized their glands to be udders.

Evolutionary Path For Such a Beast?

Deer themselves are opportunistic carnivores, eating meat when they come upon a dead animal. Maybe the deer on this island decided that simply waiting for animals to drop dead was not enough, and they steadily evolved to become more catlike for hunting purposes. Something similar happened with Entelodonts, known as "hell-pigs."

Human Interactions

This is too broad to give a good answer to. There are plenty of animals which were admired by humans for various qualities throughout history. It simply depends on your society.

Domestication is a tricky issue. Jared Diamond has some prerequisites for domestication. According to those, I doubt your cats would get domesticated. They will either be not social enough to recognize humans as pack leaders, or simply require too many resources by being carnivorous. This is especially true since cougars are strong enough to take down a human. A captive cat of that size may consider a small human the perfect meal.

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    $\begingroup$ You had me at Entelodont :D $\endgroup$ – HSquirrel Mar 13 '15 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ For domestication, do what the Russians did to foxes. Capture some and selectively breed the fear of humans out of them. They found some side effects of the process though, like floppy ears which cannot be found in wild versions. $\endgroup$ – DeveloperWeeks Feb 16 '16 at 15:50
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This is a really odd animal mix-up as you are trying to combine herbivore traits with carnivore ones.

A defining trait of a cat is they can fit into some exceedingly narrow spaces. Their bodies are sleek and they make use of their whiskers to determine whether or not they can fit into a space (hence why cats with cut whiskers will get themselves stuck from time to time). Antlers would be a bit contrary to this as their wide point will now be these antlers and they lose the ability to fit into narrow spaces. It actually seems like a disadvantage to have these from a feline point of view.

Antler evolution is one of those topics that contradict 'survival of the fittest'...on an evolutionary level, it's really 'survival of those most capable of mating'. Antlers work as a show of virility in a lot of manners and are almost exclusively used in obtaining a mate. If only those with big antlers get to mate, then there's that distinct pressure to develop bigger antlers when they don't provide much of a survival advantage.

Paw vs hoof is a weird question as well. Hoofs are designed for running and long distances and are quite hardy. Paws are much more versatile in that they can support claws (a cats primary weapon) and allow for tree climbing. If these species are roaming around flat open plains with no need to climb (trees or rocks), hoof would make sense I guess?...but it seems if this creature has a hoof, you have a deer with slightly catlike qualities and not a predatory cat. With no claws, how exactly does your cat down it's prey?

Level of sociability - I'd look to lion prides and perhaps Cheetah behavior here.

There is a bit of a muscle use and energy conflict here as well. Hoofed creatures are designed to run longer distances and have an endurance component to their survival. Cats and predators tend to be quick surge but short time frame...this is a trait of their lean muscles. It suits their hunt style well and really makes them poor beasts of burden.

I really don't see this creature that capable of existing with how you describe it here...you can't take a predatory cat and give it a bunch of traits suited to a grazing plains lifestyle and expect it to fare all too well. I have the image of an awkward cat creature with extended legs and small head struggling to hold up these massive antlers as it timidly mouths the words 'kitty-deer shouldn't be'. Human interaction would be pointing and laughing I'd suppose ;)

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  • $\begingroup$ Re hooves vs paws, the endurance thing has a number of counter-examples. For instance, probably the (land) animal with the best endurance is the sled dog, which has paws. Arguably that's partly the result of human selective breeding, but the ancestral wolves are quite high in the endurance rankings, as are humans. Most hooved animals seem to go fast, but only for long enough to outrun their predator. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 12 '15 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - I think thats climate related...paws function better on snow and ice than hooves do, no? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 12 '15 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know. Certainly there are a number of hooved animals that live in arctic conditions - caribou, musk ox, & moose come to mind - and many others that live in places with winter snow. I'll guess that it's more a matter of claws. I can't think of a single hooved predator. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 13 '15 at 3:50
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First I should mention that the horse/deer family and the cat family are significantly separated on the mammalian family tree. So the idea of a hybrid that comes from a cross descendant seems unlikely...though not impossible. It seems more likely to me that a cat species evolved them over time...a long time and you would need a environmental factor that makes them select-able.

Odds are a herbivore or omnivore would never develop to the point that they are obligate carnivores, most simply because there is far more food available for herbivores and omnivores.

Paw vs. Hoof

If you are looking for a catlike stalking creature you have to go paw. Hooves are loud and not generally great on rough terrain nor are they good for turning in a chase for prey. Hooves are great for all out running, but paws are the way to go for agility, if this animal is a hunter, paws are the way to go. Keep in mind the feet are not simply for running but also for bringing down prey (in most cases).

Level of sociability (I don't want a solitary creature, but not a large heard either)

Cat species are generally solitary. Lions being the notable example and I think the concept of a pride fits what you are looking for perfectly. 1-3 Adult males with a host of females and their offspring.

Advantages on different styles of antlers (can go in to gender of antlered species i.e. female reindeer keep their antlers past "molting" season where as males do not vs. moose)

A cat's body type won't really support full blown antlers like you see on a deer. The deer and its relatives have a much more upright neck and head while a cat's head and neck tend to mostly stay on the same plane as the spine. This would make them very front heavy and while it might be entertaining to see that struggle (and feel bad about being entertained...) that wouldn't last the evolutionary process even if it formed in the first place.

I can however imagine a cat with horns more similar to a buffalo/cow. Shorter, sharper, potentially used for hunting large prey or of course attracting mates.

Presence of mammary glands? (I'm not even sure if I know if deer/moose suckle their young)

Yes both animal types you mention do this so it is logical that some sort of hybrid would as well.

Since they are an animal of prey, how would humans in this world see them? Majestic creatures, something to be feared?

I have to agree this isn't really answerable. It would be dictated by the interaction humans have with such an animal.

Could a determined young sprite domesticate them, if so would they be beasts of burden or for the purpose of food production?

Not likely. Even house cats are notoriously difficult to train, and there is a reason private ownership of big cats is frowned upon and in some cases illegal. In a medieval...or any pre-modern setting, the cost to feed and shelter such an animal would be too high. Not to mention that fencing off an area for a big cat would be much more difficult than keeping cows in place.

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  • $\begingroup$ Re "Hooves are loud and not generally great on rough terrain nor are they good for turning in a chase for prey." Mountain goats seem to handle rough terrain quite well, while a good cow horse can turn pretty quickly. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 12 '15 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Mountain Goats don't have hooves as horses do. They're different, because Goats and Horses have different climates they are adapted to. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Mar 13 '15 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I realize mountain goats are an exception and that's why I said generally. On your second point I would say that's debatable and it certainly doesn't come close to what a big cat is capable of. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 13 '15 at 13:44
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Hmm, a cat-deer.

The design depends on the climate, I am assuming temperate. The amount of fur, and foot shape(practical with snow) might differ.

My immediate thoughts are a basic mountain lionish head, but you might want to move the ears a bit to make room for the antlers. Ooh, what if you just used one, like a unicorn, but it was antler shaped? You wouldn't want very tall antler(s), I feel like that would make a cat like creature look top heavy. Are the antlers for fighting rivals? maybe something that's low on the head, with sharp points, it could have an added advantage of protecting the eyes.

I assume a basic cat body. Perhaps with the sort of patterning one finds on house cats?

I have a hard time imagining cat legs with hooves at the end. This would mean missing out on claws. You know how cats have little finger things for each claw? Maybe keep two or three of the finger things, and make them big, they could have claws and a limited gripping ability. I'm thinking of the of the feet on the X-man, Nightcrawler. Find a picture of him. A cat version of those toes might be cool.

The people's response would depend on how civilized they are. Primitive, then they would fear and respect them. They might have beliefs about seeing ones with different pelts: white is a good omen, black means death is coming, etc. The people could be a prey of the cats. the more advanced they get, the less respect it will get, probably. Hopefully it doesn't turn into a trophy animal.

It could be useful as a hunting animal, but I wouldn't be so eager to try to tame a mountain lion, antler's or no. Sounds too dangerous. Still, could be possible.

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There is some sort of (remote) evolutionary precedent the Saber tooth cat had extended incisors which gave them the ability to tear chunks of meat off dead animals.

I would imagine a cat might evolve antler-like bones in the head if there are many animals in this world that it hunts that are much bigger (if you wanna mess with the bull prepare to get the horns!)

Big cats (and consequently smaller cats) on the real world have been worshiped in the past. The Ancient Egyptians worshiped cats to some degree because they thought cats were divine. It could be said that the Egyptians marveled at the majestic tendencies of big cats. However in many parts of the world cats have been hated and hunted because in these parts of the world they were much smaller and thieving and were thought to be evil or demons.

In the real world, lion prides can reach a maximum of 30 individuals and have a minimum of 2. So it can be safely assumed that most lion prides will range in the 10-20 range.

As these big cats are Mammals, it is likely that they have live birth which will generally mean the children will feed off of milk. Just look at modern cats.

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  • $\begingroup$ On earth, the adaptation cats have for the large kill problem are the saber-tooth canines. This has been re-developed several times in the history of cats. This works a lot better since it fits in with the normal feline attack set of tooth and claw. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 13 '15 at 23:25

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