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The Bengal Cat – A Unique Evolutionary Experiment


The creation of the Bengal Cat breed brought six and a half million years of distinct genetic evolution crashing together when two cats, from two distinct lineages produced a viable new offspring. This human engineered experiment in evolution has resulted in a distinct new breed of cat with its own unique characteristics. Many of which have not been seen or recreated for millions of years.For instance, domestic cats inherit classic tabby genes which, when combined with the ALC pattern genes, create the Bengal’s distinctive marbled pattern. This makes  it unique among domestic cats.


A silver classic tabby American shorthair cat

Silver American shorthair classic tabby


Asian Leopard cat lying down

Asian Leopard Cat


SilverstormSilver marble Bengal

Silver marble Bengal

The pattern is similar to the pattern of the  wild Marbled Cat species. This species  is distinct from both the domestic cat and leopard cat linages, splitting off more than nine million years ago from the rest of the cat family tree.


Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata)

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata)


Some of the ancient genes  inherited from the ALC side of the family have resulted in clear differences between Bengal cats and other domestic breeds. The Bengal also has inherited many traits from the different domestic cat breeds used to produce the Bengal breed. Notably  the Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, Abyssinian, as well as the Burmese and Siamese used to create the”snow’ variety of Bengals. In the remainder of this article I examine some of the most unique features of the Bengal.

Pattern and Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, Bengals possess a unique marble pattern that sets them apart from all other domestic cats.
One can easily overlook the significance of this, as the Bengal breed re-invented a nine million-year-old cat family trait.
In addition to the marble pattern, some Bengals also have glitter on their fur. This isn’t as unique as the marble pattern, but is rare among cats. Glitter was introduced into the gene pool from a single cat that was registered as an Indian Mau, Tory of Delhi. Jean Mill found Tory on the streets of India and introduced him into her breeding program.


Bengal cats fur showing glitter



The differences between Bengals and other domestic cats are more than skin deep, as they also have a very well-defined muscular structure, generally most apparent in their muscular hind legs that allow them to jump higher than most other domestic cats.



Perhaps one of the most interesting behavioural differences between Bengals and almost all other domestic breeds is their love of water.

While many other domestic cat breeds fear and avoid water (especially running water), Bengals have a unique evolutionary predisposition to it.

This is a direct result of the genetics inherited from the Asian Leopard Cat.

Asian Leopard Cats must frequently drink from stale ponds with floating plant debris.  Subsequently they have evolved an instinct to brush the water’s surface clear prior to drinking. This is  something the Bengal cat instinctively does too, even when drinking from a clean water bowl at home. However, for an Asian Leopard Cat the safest, cleanest and easiest water is running water. Running water simply has no floating debris. This love for drinking from running water streams has been inherited by our beloved Bengals as well.


Intelligence and Behaviour

Bengal owners will be quick to tell you that their Bengal cat’s behavior distinctly differs from that of other domestic cats.

Bengals tend to be very intelligent and also very curious. They are often more courageous and bold than other breeds. They love to go on walks and hikes. One of my grown kittens, lives in New York and loves to romp with dogs in the park. I have owned Bengals who loved the vacuum cleaner and liked to wrestle with it. India one of my first Bengals, even enjoyed having  her fur hoovered!
Bengal cats also appear to be one of the most easily trained cat breeds in existence. Generally, cats are more difficult to train than dogs. Bengals are the exception to this rule.




Based on mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosome, fossil,

and other evidence we now know exactly how the 37 different living feline species fit together.

They fall into eight distinct feline lineages that evolved between six and eleven million years ago, with the final two lineages appearing being that of the leopard cat and domestic cat, which split about six and a half million years ago. This was the final split in the cat family tree, as no new lineages have arisen since that time.
Thus, the last common ancestor of the cats mated to make an F1 Bengal (one ALC and one domestic cat) existed six and a half million years ago, about the same time as the last common ancestor of humans and the ancestors of chimpanzees existed.

The domestic cat and leopard cat lineages share 99% DNA (for comparison, humans and our closes relatives, the chimpanzees, share 96%).



The Bengal is a unique breed that bridged an evolutionary gap that had existed for six and a half million years between the Asian Leopard Cat and the domestic cat. The result has been the development of a breed of cat with its own unique characteristics, not only in appearance but also in behaviour.

Silver Bengal cat

RW SGCH Silverstorm The Maharajahs Cat


Reference: Professor Russell S.Sobel, P.H.D. Warren E. Johnson, Eduardo Eizirik, Jill Pecon-Slattery, William J. Murphy, Agostinho Antunes, Emma Teeling, and Stephen J. O’Brien, “The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. ” Science, Volume 311, 6 January 2006.