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Wildcat

The Wildcat is a small cat found throughout most of Africa, Europe, and southwest and central Asia into India, China, and Mongolia. Because of its wide range it is classed by the IUCN as Least Concern. However, crossbreeding with housecats is extensive and has occurred throughout almost the entirety of the species' range.

Although a furbearer, the wildcat's skin is of little commercial value, due to the unattractive color of its natural state, and the difficulties present in dyeing it.

DescriptionEdit

Compared to other members of the Felinae, the wildcat is a small species, but is nonetheless larger than the housecat. The wildcat is similar in appearance to a striped tabby cat, but has relatively longer legs, a more robust build, and a greater cranial volume. The tail is long, and usually slightly exceeds one-half of the animal's body length. Its skull is more spherical in shape than that of the jungle and leopard cat. The ears are moderate in length, and broad at the base. The eyes are large, with vertical pupils, and yellowish-green irises. Its dentition is relatively smaller and weaker than the jungle cat's. The species size varies according to Bergmann's rule, with the largest specimens occurring in cool, northern areas of Europe (such as Scotland and Scandinavia) and of Middle Asia (such as Mongolia, Manchuria and Siberia). Males measure 43 to 91 cm (17 to 36 in) in body length, 23 to 40 cm (9.1 to 15.7 in) in tail length, and normally weigh 5 to 8 kg (11 to 18 lb). Females are slightly smaller, measuring 40 to 77 cm (16 to 30 in) in body length and 18 to 35 cm (7.1 to 13.8 in) in tail length, and weighing 3 to 5 kg (6.6 to 11.0 lb).

Both sexes possess pre-anal glands, which consist of moderately sized sweat and sebaceous glands around the anal opening. Large-sized sebaceous and scent glands extend along the full length of the tail on the dorsal side. Male wildcats have pre-anal pockets located on the tail, which are activated upon reaching sexual maturity. These pockets play a significant role in reproduction and territorial marking. The species has two thoracic and two abdominal teats. The wildcat has good night vision, having 20 to 100% higher retinal ganglion cell densities[vague] than the housecat. It may[vague] have color vision as the densities of its cone receptors are more than 100% higher than in the housecat. Its sense of smell is acute, and it can detect meat at up to 200 meters. The wildcat's whiskers are white; they can reach 5 to 8 cm in length on the lips, and number 7 to 16 on each side. The eyelashes range from 5 to 6 cm in length, and can number 6 to 8 per side. Whiskers are also present on the inner surface of the wrist,[dubious – discuss] and can measure 3 to 4 cm.

BehaviorEdit

The wildcat is a largely solitary animal, except during the breeding period. The size of its home range varies according to terrain, the availability of food, habitat quality, and the age structure of the population. Male and female ranges overlap, though core areas within territories are avoided by other cats. Females tend to be more sedentary than males, as they require an exclusive hunting area when raising kittens. Within its territory, the wildcat leaves scent marks in different sites, the quantity of which increases during estrus, when the cat's pre-anal glands enlarge and secrete strong smelling substances, including trimethylamine. Territorial marking consists of urinating on trees, vegetation and rocks, and depositing feces in conspicuous places. The wildcat may also scratch trees, leaving visual markers, and leaving its scent through glands in its paws.

The wildcat does not dig its own burrows, instead sheltering in the hollows of old or fallen trees, rock fissures, and the abandoned nests or earths of other animals (heron nests, and abandoned fox or badger earths in Europe, and abandoned fennec dens in Africa). When threatened, a wildcat with a den will retreat into it, rather than climb trees. When taking residence in a tree hollow, the wildcat selects one low to the ground. Dens in rocks or burrows are lined with dry grasses and bird feathers. Dens in tree hollows usually contain enough sawdust to make lining unnecessary. During flea infestations, the wildcat leaves its den in favor of another. During winter, when snowfall prevents the wildcat from travelling long distances, it remains within its den more than usual.

Although primarily a solitary predator, the wildcat has been known to hunt in pairs or in family groups, with each cat devoted entirely to either listening, stalking, and pouncing. While wildcats in Europe will cache their food, such a behavior has not been observed in their African counterparts.

FoodEdit

Throughout its range, small rodents (mice, voles, and rats) are the wildcat's primary prey, followed by birds (chickens, ducks, and passerines on rare occasions), dormice, hares, nutria, and insectivores. Unlike the housecat, the wildcat can consume large fragments of bone without ill-effect. Although it kills insectivores, such as moles and shrews, it rarely eats them because of the pungent scent glands on their flanks. When living close to human habitations, the wildcat can be a serious poultry predator. In the wild, the wildcat consumes up to 600 grams of food daily.

The diet of wildcats in Great Britain varies geographically; in eastern Scotland, lagomorphs make up 70% of their diet, while in the west, 47% consists of small rodents. In Western Europe, the wildcat feeds on hamsters, brown rats, dormice, water voles, voles, and wood mice. From time to time, small carnivores (martens, polecats, stoats, and weasels) are preyed upon, as well as the fawns of red deer, roe deer, and chamois. In the Carpathians, the wildcat feeds primarily on yellow-necked mice, red-backed voles, and ground voles. European hares are also taken on occasion. In Transcarpathia, the wildcat's diet consists of mouse-like rodents, galliform birds, and squirrels. Wildcats in the Dnestr swamps feed on small voles, water voles, and birds, while those living in the Prut swamps primarily target water voles, brown rats, and muskrats. Birds taken by Prut wildcats include warblers, ferruginous ducks, coots, spotted crakes, and gadwalls.

In Moldavia, the wildcat's winter diet consists primarily of rodents, while birds, fish, and crayfish are eaten in summer. Brown rats and water voles, as well as muskrats and waterfowl are the main sources of food for wildcats in the Kuban delta. Wildcats in the northern Caucasus feed on mouse-like rodents and edible dormice, as well as birds on rare occasions. On rare occasions, young chamois and roe deer, are also attacked. Wildcats on the Black Sea coast are thought to feed on small birds, shrews, and hares. On one occasion, the feathers of a white-tailed eagle and the skull of a kid were found at a den site. In Transcaucasia, the wildcat's diet consists of gerbils, voles, birds, and reptiles in the summer, and birds, mouse-like rodents, and hares in winter. Turkmenian wildcats feed on great and red-tailed gerbils, Afghan voles, thin-toed ground squirrels, tolai hares, small birds (particularly larks), lizards, beetles, and grasshoppers. Near Repetek, the wildcat is responsible for destroying over 50% of nests made by desert finches, streaked scrub warblers, red-tailed warblers, and turtledoves. In the Qarshi steppes of Uzbekistan, the wildcat's prey, in descending order of preference, includes great and red-tailed gerbils, jerboas, other rodents and passerine birds, reptiles, and insects. Wildcats in eastern Kyzyl Kum have similar prey preferences, with the addition of tolai hares, midday gerbils, five-toed jerboas, and steppe agamas. In Kyrgyzstan, the wildcat's primary prey varies from tolai hares near Issyk Kul, pheasants in the Chu and Talas valleys, and mouse-like rodents and grey partridges in the foothills.

In Kazakhstan's lower Ili, the wildcat mainly targets rodents, muskrats, and Tamarisk gerbils. Occasionally, remains of young roe deer and wild boar are present in its feces. After rodents, birds follow in importance, along with reptiles, fish, insects, eggs, grass stalks and nuts (which probably enter the cat's stomach through pheasant crops). In west Africa, the wildcat feeds on rats, mice, gerbils, hares, small to medium-sized birds (up to francolins), and lizards. In southern Africa, where wildcats attain greater sizes than their western counterparts, antelope fawns and domestic stock, such as lambs and kids are occasionally targeted.

RelatedEdit

SubspeciesEdit

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