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Natural History of Cats


Veterinarian Tom Rothwell

Natural History – American Museum of Natural History

While a Research Associate in the Division of Paleontology, I focused my research on fossil members of the family Felidae (fossil felids, fossil cats). I continue to study primarily the fossil felids of North America, focusing on the specimens present in the Frick-AMNH collection of fossil mammals.

Contact me at:

Tom Rothwell

Paris Hill Cat Hospital

2825 Old Route 12, Paris, NY, 13456


Ph.D., Vertebrate Paleontology

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Lamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryColumbia University, New York City

Click here to go to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, 1976

New York State College of Veterinary Medicine Cornell University

Ithaca, New York Click here to go to Cornell’s NYS College of Veterinary Medicine

Bachelor of Science, Chemical Engineering

Syracuse University, 1971


  • 2004. Rothwell, T. New felid material from the Ulaan Tologoi locality, Loh Formation (early Miocene) of Mongolia. In G.C. Gould and S.K. Bell (editors), Tributes to Malcolm C. McKenna: his students, his legacy. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 285: 157-165.

  • Rothwell, T. 2002. Phylogenetic systematics of North American Pseudaelurus (Carnivora: Felidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (In Press)

  • Rothwell, T. 2002. New felid material from the Ulaan Tologoi locality, Loh Formation (early Miocene) of Mongolia. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Number 285 (Chapter 12).

  • Rothwell, T. 2001. A partial skeleton of Pseudaelurus (Carnivora: Felidae) from the Nambé Member of the Tesuque Formation, Española Basin, New Mexico. American Museum Novitates 3342:1-31.

  • Rothwell, T. 1982. Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning of the three-day event horse. USCTA News June: 6-8.

  • Rothwell, T. 1981. The AHSA drugs and medications rule-know your facts, avoid needless elimination. USCTA News April: 20-21.

  • Rothwell, T. 1980. Re-training the horse with navicular disease. Long Island Horse World 2:30-31.

  • Rothwell, T. 1978a, The tragedy of hip dysplasia. In: Caras, R. (ed.) Dog Owner’s Bible, pp.277-280.South Hackensack: Stoeger Publishing Company.

  • Rothwell, T. 1978b, The crucial business of immunization. In: Caras, R. (ed.) Dog Owner’s Bible, pp.32-38.South Hackensack: Stoeger Publishing Company


I am a student of natural history. I am interested in the anatomy of felids (cats) and how knowledge of this anatomy can lead to understanding evolutionary relationships within the family Felidae, the sub-order Aeluroidea and the order Carnivora. My first body of work at the American Museum, my doctoral dissertation, concentrated on the anatomy of the earliest fossil felids of North America. These cats entered the North American continent approximately 17 million years ago, and left a fossil record that spanned approximately 5 million years. I compared the anatomy of these extinct taxa to modern cats, and then hypothesized on their relationships. As a result of this work, the earliest felids that entered North America now have genus and species names as well as morphological characters that are attached to these names. This is indeed a good start. However, much more needs to be done. For example, it has been published that the felids alive today are closely related and that they share a common ancestor that lived only three or four million years ago. I am interested in investigating whether that is true, and if so, in determining just who that ancestral felid might be.My present research involves the earliest saber-toothed cats of North America. The first fossil evidence of these special felids, with their elongated upper canines, begins to show up in North American localities approximately 11 million years ago. At the American Museum, we have a magnificent collection of these early saber-tooth cats. I am studying the anatomy of these fossils in great detail and I will be comparing their anatomy with that of the earlier fossil felids and to the cats who are alive today. I will then use computer programs to analyze this data. The computer will provide hypotheses, or suggestions as to the relationships of all of these cats. A scientific goal is to determine who the ancestor of the earliest saber-tooth cats might be. There is another feline question that I would like to help answer. If all of the cats alive today are closely related (and they appear to be very closely related), then it may be possible to identify their common ancestor in the fossil record. If the common ancestor of today’s cats can be identified, perhaps then we can find out why it survived and why other potential ancestors went extinct. If we are to prevent further extinction within the family Felidae; if we wish to save the great cats that are still with us, the lions, the tigers, the snow leopards, surely then we must find out how and why the cats that survived to the present did so.