A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What Is a Leopard Cat?

Leopard Cat in Bronx Zoo.
By Stavenn (Own work)
[GFDLCC-BY-SA-3.0, or CC BY 2.5],
via Wikimedia Commons; 

If you have been paying attention to this blog, you’ll remember that last week we wrote of new evidence that leopard cats may have been domesticated or almost domesticated 5,000 years ago in parts of China. We thought you might perhaps be curious about these leopard cats, and so this week we report on the species otherwise known as Prionailurus bengalensis.

Leopard cats are found across a
large area of Asia, and populations
show wide variation in size
and color from north to south.
Map from IUCN Red List of  Threatened Species,
species assessors and the authors of the
spatial data. [CC BY-SA 3.0 ],
via Wikimedia Commons.
First off, the leopard cat is the most common small cat in Asia. They have a large range: from Java up through Malaysia, China, and into parts of Russia. They’re found in parts of India, too. Leopard cats are roughly the size of domestic cats, only with longer legs. Their size varies a lot across their range, though, from just 1.2 pounds in Malaysia to 15 pounds in Russia (Sunquist & Sunquist, p. 193). As their name implies, their coats are spotted, giving them the appearance of small leopards. Coloring varies, from yellowish-brown in the south to grayish-brown in the north (“Leopard Cat Facts”).

One really interesting thing about leopard cats is that they like to swim. Let me say that again: They like to swim. Go figure. They’ve even been known to swim to and colonize islands, and one leopard cat that swam to a ship in the Bay of Bengal became the first of its species to be described by scientists (Sunquist & Sunquist, p. 193). We wonder if the cat regretted taking that swim.

Leopard cats eat mostly rats and mice, but they’ll eat other things too, like birds and fish. They hunt mostly at night, whether in trees or on the ground—and, since they sometimes eat fish, they can also hunt either in water or from the shore.

Because of their beautiful coat pattern, leopard cats have been hunted for their pelts. They’re not considered threatened or endangered, but habitat loss is a problem in some areas, and then there’s that killing-for-coats thing. In China in the 1980s, “hundreds of thousands of Leopard Cat skins were exported per year” (IUCN). This trade isn’t as common as it once was, but leopard cats are still hunted for their fur or as food. Sometimes they’re killed for being pests to poultry.

And, in an example of history repeating itself, people are still working on domesticating leopard cats. The cats are sometimes taken from the wild to be made into pets or to be bred with domestic cats. That domestic breeding has produced the popular Bengal cat breed, which we will learn about next week.

Sources

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. “Prionailurus bengalensis.” http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/18146/0

“Leopard cat.” Arkive. http://www.arkive.org/leopard-cat/prionailurus-bengalensis/image-G74417.html

“Leopard Cat Facts.” (March 15, 2015). Big Cat Rescue. https://bigcatrescue.org/leopard-cat-facts/

Sunquist, F., & Sunquist, M. (2014). The Wild Cat Book. University of Chicago Press.

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