The origin of 600 million house cats has been traced to five matriarchal lines in the Mideast, where the first wildcats moved close to families some 10,000 years ago and earned their keep eating vermin, the New York Times reports. House cats share striking DNA similarities with wildcats in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Cats became particularly useful when humans first started raising wheat and barley and needed the bold wildcats who moved into villages to keep down the rat and mice population, scientists speculate. Domestication has proven to be an extremely successful survival strategy for the animals, whose population continues to increase while other cat species are faced with extinction. (Read more science stories.)