Lions are the king of the savanna. Tigers reign over the jungle. Jaguars run the Amazon. Lynx rule the tundra. And cats eat 3 million chickens and more than 20 billion rodents and birds every year—just in the U.S. Let’s find out why felines in almost every ecosystem are unequivocal apex predators.
What are apex predators?
Apex predators have no natural predators in their ecosystem—meaning they are at the top of the food chain. Big cats such as lions, tigers, jaguars, and lynx are considered apex predators in their respective habitats.
It may seem like a leap to say that domestic house cats are carnivorous beasts at the top of the food chain, but the truth is—cats, too, are apex predators! If humans disappeared off the face of the earth, felines would continue to flourish, surviving off the plethora of rodents, birds, insects, and even reptiles found in almost any ecosystem.
Cats are perfectly evolved hunters: They can lengthen their spines to allow for short bursts of speed of up to 20-30 mph, narrow their shoulders and chest to squeeze into tiny spaces, jump as much as nine times their height from a standing position, and land on their feet almost every time they fall.
We musn’t forget that cats’ superior hunting abilities are sometimes to the detriment of nature: Cats are responsible for the death of 1.3 to 4 billion birds in the United States every year. Yet another reason to keep your kitty indoors!
Cats are nature’s rodent control
Unfortunate songbird statistics aside, cats as apex predators have played an important role for the past 10,000 years: As agricultural practices spread, cats served as nature’s best rodent control. Keeping these pests away from food sources benefited the farmers, which led to the domestication of house cats.
Why did these cat and mouse games start? What is it about mice and rats that kicks cats’ predatory instincts into overdrive? It turns out that cats consume their prey to get taurine, an essential amino acid. According to Vetstreet, “Unlike most other animals, cats do not make enough taurine, so they must consume it in their diet. Meat is the only thing that has enough taurine in it to meet the demands of a cat’s body, which makes cats something called an obligate carnivore.”
Naturally, those cat and mouse games led to the designation of domestic cats as “mousers.”
What is the best mouser cat?
Some cats are better mousers than others. If you’re looking for a feline that will excel at rodent control, look no further than….
Cats at your local shelter!
That’s right, the best mouser cat is probably sitting at your local shelter waiting to be adopted. Although every kitty deserves a pampered life indoors, there are many strays (some even semi-feral) that would love nothing more than to keep mice out of the barn. Talk to the volunteers at your local shelter or rescue for suggestions on which kitties may be perfect for the mouser life.
Polydactyl cats have extra toes on one or more of their paws. And because of these extra toes, they are top-notch mousers, climbing higher and faster than their regular feline brethren.
Not only are Maine Coon cats often polydactyl, they are large, powerful hunters with a good nature and undemanding attitude.
Manx cats, with their distinctive lack of tail, began life on the Isle of Man as mousers. They’ve retained these hunting skills as they eventually spread to lands beyond the island.
American Shorthair cats are descendants of the felines that came over with colonists on the Mayflower and more. These ancestors kept the ships free of vermin.
These cats resembling a lynx are a natural breed from Russia’s Sakhalin island and Kuril archipelago. They are now popular as a domesticated feline in Russia for their mousing abilities.
Norwegian Forest Cat
Norwegian Forest Cats are natural hunters and climbers. These gentle giants are said to have traveled with the Vikings, keeping their ships and villages free of vermin.
The large, exotic-looking Savannah cat is said to have such strong hunting instincts, he or she may not be suitable for households with pets like fish, hamsters, and birds.
The York Chocolate began life on a dairy farm, and may just be happiest living life as a farm cat. These cats are capable hunters that also bond well with humans.
Siberian cats date back at least 1,000 years, where they were prized in their homeland of Russia for their ability to keep mice and other rodents away from food sources.
The partially hairless, werewolf-looking Lykoi cats are derivatives of feral cats. As such, they have retained their strong prey drive, and love stalking people and other animals.
Honorable mention: British Shorthair and Chartreux
The British Shorthair and Chartreux recently made our list of lazy cat breeds—but once upon a time, these apex predators were known for keeping mice off the streets and out of monasteries!