Which is the world's smallest wild cat?
- Author: Zara McDonald
- Publication Date: December 13, 2012
- Focus Species: Felis nigripes (Black-footed Cat) , Prionailurus rubiginosus (Rusty-spotted Cat)
How big is it, and where does it live?
The Rusty-Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) wins the title for the world’s smallest wild cat weighing a mere 1.8-3.5 lbs (0.8-1.6 kg) and is 14 to 19 inches (35 to 48 cm) in length (not counting the tail which is half the size of the body). This feline has short grey fur over most of its body with rusty spots over its back and flanks from where it derives its name. Their underbellies are white with large dark spots and they have six dark streaks on each side of their heads, extending over their cheeks and forehead.
The Rusty-Spotted Cat, known as the “hummingbird of the cat family”, is only found in India and Sri Lanka. There are 10,000 Rusty-Spotted Cats in the wild and the species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Like other wild cats, the Rusty-Spotted Cat is on the decline mostly due to habitat loss and hunting pressures (for their coat and even for food in some parts of their range). There are reports of their domestication due to their size and affectionate nature. In fact, Rusty-Spotted Cats are quite active and playful.
The Rusty-Spotted Cat prefers dense vegetation and rocky areas and inhabits deciduous forests as well as scrub and grasslands. An arboreal and nocturnal feline, the Rusty-Spotted Cat, unsurprisingly, preys on small animals such as frogs, rodents, insects, small birds and reptiles. They have also has been known to prey on domestic poultry sometimes leading to human-wildlife conflicts.
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The World's Second Smallest Cat
The Black-Footed Cat (Felis nigripes) is the second smallest wild cat in the world and holds the title of the smallest cat in Africa weighing 2.2-5.5 pounds (1-2.5kgs) with a body length of approximately 14-20 inches (36-52 cm). This feline is endemic to the arid south west Africa and prefers dry, open savanna and grassland with some vegetation cover. The Black-Footed Cat is nocturnal and opposite of the Rusty-Spotted Cat in that they are highly unsociable and will “seek refuge at the slightest disturbance.” However, they are also quite courageous and will hold their ground. In parts of South Africa they are called "miershooptier" or anthill tigers due to this tenacity and the fact that during the day they like to rest in abandoned termite mounds or burrows.
In general, they hunt small prey like rodents and small birds, but they are voracious hunters and can successfully hunt Cape Hare which are heavier than them. Although they are so small, they have high energy requirements (they need about 250 grams per day) and kill up to fourteen small animals per night. Similar to the big cats they are know to cache their food for later consumption.
The Black-Footed Cat’s coat is tan to reddish brown, covered with dark spots and the legs have wide dark stripes. They get their name from the bottom of their feet which are entirely black. Their tails are ringed with black stripes and a black tip. All this helps with camouflage as they are capable stalk-and-pounce hunters.
An interesting adaptation feature of the Black-Footed Cat, which is different that most felids, is that they can go long periods without drinking water from standing bodies of water; They obtain most of their hydration from their prey and by licking dew on long grass.
Similar to the Rusty-Footed Cat, this feline is listed as Vulnerable although it is protected in that no hunting of it is allowed in any of its range. There are thought to be more than 10,000 individuals in the wild.
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