Many years ago (1977) I did a university project about the coat pattern
genetics of feral cats, testing the hypothesis that under some selective
pressure for camouflage assisting better hunting or protection from
predators they would tend to revert to wild-type. So I have maintained some
interest. I have various references on the issue of cat colour genetics and
efforts to try to trace ancestry of populations by this method. They all
seemed a bit tenuous to me. I think a suggestion of pre European arrival of
cats in Australia novel and rather weird. I can't think of any existing
evidence that would support that or how or why it should happen. Surely the
species of small mammals that have succumbed would have already done so
before European people arrived. About the idea that feral cats in northern
Australia may be smaller than in the south, well that may well be (it is a
new idea to me). If so that simply supports the general rule of clinal
variation that says that organisms further from the equator tend to be
bigger than tropical forms (usually of the same species). I would think it
is quite feasible that feral cats could have adapted that way in a bit over
My comments on coat pattern genetics of cats (below) only mention three
genes, those that are the most relevant, there are several other genes that
produce other effects on these basic ones.
The correspondence below may contribute something although I won't include
the attachments as they are 3MB.
Thanks for your interesting email. It would be interesting to see your
report, though I'm not sure that much could come of it now. I think it's
pretty well recognised now that feral cats (as well as other species, like
pigs) tend to revert to a wild phenotype fairly quickly. Although this is
probably one of those things that is just accepted because it makes
intuitive sense, without ever been tested or quantitatively described.
Pip Masters at Kangaroo Island NRM Board has an increasing dataset of feral
cats killed or found as road kill on the island. Most of them have been dark
tabbies of one type or another; black has also been common. David Paton from
Adelaide Uni also reported similar results (attached paper page 7). Most in
our study were also tabbies, as detailed in the attached paper WR11134.
My impression was that coat patterns tended to be more varied closer to
settlements, as might be expected if there were more domestic phenotypes
regularly entering the population in these areas, but I this is just an
impression. I can't recall ever seeing a cat with white in its coat at any
of our bushland sites, but we found a few around farms and towns (I have one
such skin hanging in my office).
One final attachment that you might be interested in is a poster classifying
domestic cats according to their coat patterns.
Thanks again for the information. Among other things, I've now learnt that
all tortoiseshell cats are female.
Andrew Bengsen | Research Officer
NSW Department of Primary Industries | Vertebrate Pest Research Unit
1447 Forest Rd | Orange NSW 2800 | Locked Bag 6006 | Orange NSW 2800
T: 02 6391 3991 | M: 0438 746 294 | F: 02 6391 3972 | E:
From: Philip Veerman <>
To: Andrew Bengsen <>
Date: 14/12/2011 05:23 PM
Subject: Feral cat coat colour population genetics
Estimating and indexing feral cat population abundances using camera traps
Andrew Bengsen A B, John Butler A and Pip Masters A
A Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board, 35 Dauncey Street,
Kingscote, SA 5223, Australia.
B Corresponding author. Present address: NSW Department of Primary
Industries, Locked Bag 6006, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia. Email:
Wildlife Research 38(8) 732-739 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR11134
Submitted: 26 July 2011 Accepted: 20 October 2011 Published: 9 December
Re: the above paper that I have just come across (or should say have seen
the abstract on-line through subscribing to these. It raised my interest. I
wonder whether anyone has any data on the coat colours of these feral cats.
Here is my reason. 34 years ago, I did a 3rd year Genetics project (La Trobe
Uni) investigating the coat pattern genetics of feral cats, testing the
hypothesis that under some selective pressure for camouflage assisting
better hunting or protection from predators they would tend to revert to
wild-type. for example the photo showing on the abstract fits the type
(black blotched tabby). Was a fun project and the results went in favour of
the suggestion but it was hard to get a good quantity of data back then.
There is no publication. Sadly at the time there was not enough data in it
to justify publication of it. Though there was enough data to be suggestive
of a result. It is hand written. If you are really interested, I could
photocopy it and send it to you I guess.
There are several genes that effect cat coat colours. "Tabby" is not such an
easy thing to describe. It usually refers to one of two common marking
patterns: blotched tabby which has irregular light and dark markings or
mackerel tabby, in which the barred pattern is quite regular, light and dark
bars over most of the body. Orange cats always show their tabby pattern but
black cats can have the tabby gene suppressed. There is a complication that
the Orange/Black gene happens to be sex linked, (which is why all
tortoiseshell cats are female). When the Orange gene is present, it
suppresses the action of the non-tabby gene whereas the Black gene does not.
This is why cats that are black rather than orange, can be tabby patterned
or all black or have black patches. In contrast, orange cats always have the
tabby pattern on their orange patches (for males this is the whole cat, for
females it can be any size patches). The other important feature is the
presence and extent of piebald spotting (patches of white, usually on the
paws but variously extending to the belly, chest, face and sometimes over
24 Castley Circuit
Kambah ACT 2902
02 - 62314041
On Behalf Of brian fleming
Sent: Sunday, 13 January 2013 8:48 AM
To: Andrew Stafford;
Subject: feral cats and immigration (The Age)
Heartfelt thanks for your excellent piece in 'The Age'.
Some time ago I was listening to either 'Science Show' or 'Ockham's
Razor', and heard a biologist or ecologist interviewed. He researches
feral cats in the Kimberley or Pilbara, putting radio-collars on feral
cats. One tom was living on a rocky ridge bordering a grassy plain.
There was a grass-fire on the plain, and the cat came down from his
ridge, and trekked several kilometres across the plain to the margin of
the burnt area. This was good hunting for him because of all the refugee
mammals and reptiles which had escaped the fire and moved to nearby
unburnt country. He hunted here for a week or two and then trekked back
to his ridge. I have not been able to follow up the reference but i
think it is important information.
Thank you again,
On 13/01/2013 12:19 AM, Andrew Stafford wrote:
> After my somewhat intemperate outburst regarding the publication of
> Professor Adrian Franklin's piece in The Age earlier this week (I
> called it "the biggest load of crap this side of a dysentery
> epidemic"), Birding-Aus filled up for a day with far more useful posts
> than mine about the feral cat problem. I would like to thank all those
> people whose posts led me to links that I quickly assembled for an
> opinion piece of my own by way of reply. I was intending to do this
> anyway - but those replies saved me a lot of time in research, and I
> thank everyone who contributed to the topic. These replies need to be
> written quickly if they're to be published, so it was a great help. I
> trust I haven't plagiarised anyone! I did borrow the superb quote from
> Ross Macfarlane's brother at the end, which I acknowledged, though not
> by name.
> The piece appears in today's Age, quite to my surprise (no one
> contacted me to tell me it was going in) -
> One thing that got edited out of my short bio at the bottom was that I
> keep my lilac-point ragdoll indoors!
> Thanks again
On 08/01/2013, at 21:52, Ian May <> wrote:
> > g'Day all
> > Having spent a considerable amount of time in the Kimberley and Gulf
> > of
> Carpentaria since the early 1970s, it has always struck me as
> interesting to observe the more uniform consistently smaller tabby
> appearance of many feral cats seen north of the tropic of Capricorn,
> compared to the generally larger and diverse coloured animals seen in
> southern areas such as Simpson and Strzelecki deserts. These northern
> cats appear to have the consistent appearance of a wild species
> compared to the mixed up look of domestic animals typically gone wild.
> > I once read a paper suggesting there was a close DNA link between
> Kimberley feral cats and those found in Sulawesi Indonesia and
> suggesting cats were in Australia long before the First Fleet. It was
> implied that Macassan traders who sought trepang (sea cucumbers) off
> Australia's northern coast some 500 years before the First Fleet had
> brought cats here.
> > It may not be a popular theory that cats have been on mainland
> > Australia
> for many hundreds of years. However it is probably true and irrespective
> of the fact that they take native prey, the major ecological impacts
> have probably long passed.
> > I can't remember the paper with certainty but I have seen a
> > reference
> that I think was it.
> > Baldwin JA (1980) The domestic cat, Felis catus L. in the Pacific
> Islands. Carnivore Genetics Newsletter 4, 57-66.
> > I would be interested in a copy of the paper if anyone has access to
> > it.
> > Regards
> > Ian May
> > In smoky St Helens, Tasmania
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