- A-Z Animals
The wild cat or wildcat is a group of closely related species, belonging to the cat family Felidae. It mainly comprises two species of small wild cats, including the European wildcat and African wildcat, each of which consists of different subspecies. These species can be distinguished by their size, tail, and fur pattern. Remarkably, the term wild cat is also used for referring to some feral cats, as well as the bobcats and lynxes found in North America.
The genus Felis is divided into two species, including the African wildcat (F. lybica) and the European wildcat (F. silvestris). The following members are considered their subspecies.
Size: Wild cats are visibly larger as compared to domestic cats. Their size varies depending on their geographic distribution, with the largest individuals being found in colder environments in Siberia, Manchuria, and Mongolia. Males have head to body length of 17-36 in and tail length of 9.1-15.7 in, while the females are smaller, with their body measuring 16-30 in and tail reaching to a size of 7.1-13.8 in.
Weight: Male wild cats are heavier and weigh anywhere between 11 and 18 lb. Females, on the other hand, have a weight that ranges from 6.6-11 lb.
Color: European wildcats have brownish to gray fur with lighter contour hairs. They possess stripes on their forehead that break up into spots. A dark spinal stripe extends up to the base of their tail. African wildcats have light sandy gray fur, which can sometimes be reddish or pale yellow. They have a whitish belly and throat, reddish or gray ears, and dark ochre or black stripes around their face.
Body: Wild cats are more robust and have comparatively longer legs than domestic cats. They have a long tail, measuring about half of their body’s length. Their white whiskers, on the muzzle, can be 2.0-3.1 in long. Both the sexes possess a pair of thoracic and abdominal teats.
Ears: These are moderately large, with a broad base and pointed tip.
Eyes: The wild cats have large eyes, along with yellowish-green irises and vertical pupils. They also possess 6-8 eyelashes on each eye, measuring anywhere between 2.0 and 2.4 in.
Skull: Wild cats are characterized by a larger brain and greater skull volume than domestic cats. Their skull is also more spherical as compared to that of leopard cats and jungle cats.
The distribution range of European wildcats extends from Iberia, Italy, France, Turkey, Scotland, Central and Eastern European countries, to the Caucasus. African wildcats are found across Africa, along the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, through Central Asia and western India, and finally into western China.
European wildcats primarily inhabit the broad-leaved and mixed temperate forests in Europe. They also occur at altitudes of 2,250 m in the Pyrenees Mountain Range in the Iberian Peninsula. African wildcats live in a wide range of habitats, including mountainous landscapes, tropical and subtropical grasslands, shrublands, deserts, and savannas.
Wild cats have an average life expectancy of about 13-14 years, but they can live for up to 21 years.
They are natural predators, with the European species primarily hunting on small mammals like rodents and rabbits. These wildcats also prey on nutria, hares, dormice, ducks, waterfowl, pigeons, passerines, and galliformes. African wildcats mostly hunt murids, but they may eat invertebrates, birds, and small reptiles.
When a female goes into estrus, males gather near it and compete for the mating rights. While the male wild cats screech, yowl, and fight, females may mate with more than one males.
Breeding season in wild cats varies depending on the local climate. The European wildcats mate in the winter (January-March) and give birth in the spring (May). African wildcats remain in estrus from September to March while Asiatic wildcats may breed throughout the year.
After successful copulation, females carry their offspring for 60-68 days, then giving birth to 1-8 kittens in protected burrows, crevices under rocks, or dense vegetation. The males attain sexual maturity at 9-22 months while the females become capable of reproduction at 10-11 months of age.
The newborn kittens weigh about 2.3-5.7 oz, but those under 3.2 oz typically do not survive. They have a fuzzy coat and their eyes remain closed at birth. Moreover, their eyes are blue, and the paw pads are pink. While their first incisors start emerging after 14-30 days, the milk teeth are all replaced by permanent dentition when they are 160-240 days old.
The wildcat species and their associated subspecies are included in CITES Appendix II and protected in almost all the countries where they are found. European wildcats are specifically listed in the Bern Convention’s Appendix II and Habitats Directive of the European Union. Conservation Action Plans are also in place in Scotland and Germany.
1. What is the biggest wild cat?
The European wildcats are larger than their African and Asiatic cousins, with the biggest specimens occurring in the colder, northern regions of Europe.
2. Do wild cats purr?
Wild cats use a variety of sounds to communicate different intents, including purring for affection.
3. What is the most endangered wild cat?
The Scottish wildcat is the most critically endangered type of wild cats in the world. They have become an endangered species due to years of persecution and habitat destruction.
4. Do wild cats live in packs?
Wild cats are largely solitary, but they live in pairs or groups during the breeding season.