European Wildcat Facts

Uncertainties in taxonomy with respect to the wildcat makes it more difficult to provide solid European wildcat facts. By taxonomy I mean the scientific classification of the subspecies of the wildcat. The wildcat is a species of wild cat - it's a bit confusing.

At December 2011, the experts seem to have agreed, at least for the time being, that there are five subspecies of wildcat, one of which is the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris). The other four are:
  1. Chinese desert (mountain) cat - Felis silvestris bieti
  2. Asiatic wildcat - Felis silvestris ornata
  3. African wildcat or Near Eastern wildcat - Felis silvestris lybica  
  4. Southern African wildcat - Felis silvestris cafra
The Scottish wildcat is not considered a subspecies despite what the Scottish Wildcat Association say (Felis silvestris grampia).

Description

The overriding feature of the appearance of the European wildcat is that you could almost be looking at a domestic tabby cat. The size is similar although the wildcat is the size of a large domestic cat. The markings and coat texture are distinctly wild in appearance. By this I mean more natural as a form of camouflage. The background color is brown/grey and ticked hair strands. There are dark stripes on the torso, limbs and head. The tail is banded with a black tip. This cat has a the tabby "M" mark on the forehead. You can see that the distant ancestor of the current domestic cat is a wildcat (Near Eastern wildcat in fact).


Distribution

There must be some overlap between the European and Asiatic wildcat I would have thought.  The range of the European subspecies is very wide extending beyond the political boundary of what is considered Europe. It is fragmented however and populations are diminishing. In some countries such as the Netherlands it has been extirpated.



Habitat

The wide distribution means a wide variety of habitats depending on the area. The common denominator is cover for the cat to hide, rest, hunt and give birth. Woodlands, pine forests, rocks and undergrowth provide cover. This wildcat will inhabit montane forests in Eastern Europe.

European wildcat  - photo by Joachim S. Müller

Prey

Rodents primarily mice, rats and voles and also birds are the prey. Killing chicks has been a source of consternation for the game bird business resulting in gamekeepers killing the wild cat in parts of continental Europe.

Reproduction

Gestation (pregnancy) is 63-69 days. Litter size: 1-8 kittens. Kittens eat solids (mice) at 6 weeks and go out to the big wide world at 10-12 weeks of age. Two litters per year may be the case for some females.

Status in the Wild

This concerns and assessment of the European wildcat's position regarding survivability in the wild. This is a difficult task that the IUCN Red ListTM take charge of. Their experts say the cat is of Least Concern. Threats are persecution by people, habitat loss and prey loss.

2 comments:

  1. You live and learn. Thank you for all this information! It's intriguing!

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