Felis silvestris

Quick Bio for Wildcats:

Status: Least Concern
have from 1-8 kittens, usually 4
Weight: 4-5 kg
Diet: Carnivore

Physical description of Wildcats

Weighing in at 2-5 kg, there is a difference between the sexes but not between the subspecies. This applies to length as well, with the cats coming in at just over half a meter in length. The Asiatic wildcat is, on average, a bit smaller than the other two. This is due to its preference for arid regions. Generally, most animals that live in arid areas are slighter than cousins that live in more abundant wetland, grassland or forest habitats.

The three wildcats vary in color. Dull greyish brown with black stripes might be considered standard. However, depending on where they live, things change. Asian cats are more likely to have a richer brown color, and African cats have a full range of colors from yellow through brown to grey.

Noticeably, the European cat has much thicker fur and looks more stocky; the African cat has the thinnest coat and also a thinner, less bushy tail.

The African Wild Cat (Felis silvestris lybica) boasts a slender and tall frame, adapted for life in the shrublands and tall grasses where it can conceal itself effectively without the need for thick fur to ward off cold weather.
Licensed from Shutterstock
The African Wild Cat (Felis silvestris lybica) boasts a slender and tall frame, adapted for life in the shrublands and tall grasses where it can conceal itself effectively without the need for thick fur to ward off cold weather.

Distribution and habitat of Wildcats

The Wildcat is a complex species. The three main subspecies are sometimes considered different species. There are definitely three distinct regions, and the cats there are relatively distinctive. The Wildcat stretches from Europe to South Africa and across much of Asia.

Felis silvestris silvestris is the European cat (across Europe as far as Western Russia but not much in the north)
Felis silvestris lybica from Africa and the Middle East (South Africa to Arabia)
Felis silvestris ornata from Asia (Middle East to West China and into Russia)

The domestic cat is thought to be a descendant of the Africa variety and now lives worldwide.

The habitat of the wildcats varies with their distributions. They are all capable of living in most environments. Asiatic cats, though, are found more often in arid areas and scrubland.

European wildcats are commonly seen in forests, mostly deciduous, but sometimes in the evergreen forests of the north as well. However, their northward limit is there where there is significant snow. Like the Asiatic wildcat, they don’t do well with deep snow.

Snow isn’t much of an issue for African wildcats. They can be found in all habitat types across the African continent, except for tropical jungles.

A male Wildcat (Felis silvestris) perched atop a dead tree within the dense forests of the Maramures Mountains, part of the natural reserve in Romania.
Licensed from Shutterstock
A male Wildcat (Felis silvestris) perched atop a dead tree within the dense forests of the Maramures Mountains, part of the natural reserve in Romania.

Wildcat behaviour

Depending on where they live and the amount of human habitation nearby, wildcats are active at night or in the early/late hours of daylight. In places where there are few humans, they are known to be active during the day as well, especially the Asian wildcat.

They travel far and wide in search of prey. Generally, this is within their home range, which doesn’t overlap much with other cats. They are solitary animals and keep their territories separate.

Spraying and scent marking are common ways of marking territory. Wildcats might have visual communication as well. Vocal communication is used between mothers and kittens.

The population of the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) has been hybridized in many regions, but in other areas such as Spain you can still find a good population of pure wildcats.
Licensed from Shutterstock
The population of the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) has been hybridized in many regions, but in other areas such as Spain you can still find a good population of pure wildcats.

What do Wildcats eat?

Writing the descriptions for all the cats on this website does get a bit repetitive. There are a lot of similarities between the species. The smaller ones eat mainly small rodents. Mice and voles are common prey species, sometimes larger rats as well. However, wildcats, like most cats, are fully evolved hunters and will take bigger prey if the opportunity is available. Rabbits and hares definitely aren’t too big.

Wildcats (Felis sylvestris lybica) quite often hunt at the edges of human settlements, like this one in an agricultural field.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Wildcats (Felis sylvestris lybica) quite often hunt at the edges of human settlements, like this one in an agricultural field.

Mating and Parental care of Wildcats

Wildcats are polyandrous. The female will allow males to compete for her attention and mate with multiple in the same period. Given the wide variation in habitats and climates, it is no surprise to see that wildcats breed at different times. In Europe, for example, kittens are born at the start of the clearly defined summer. The Asian wildcat breeds year-round.

Generally, females have 3 or 4 young after a two-month pregnancy. Born blind and incapable of doing much, the kittens are looked after by the mother in a den for the first few weeks as they slowly become more capable. After a month, kittens are weaned and start to learn to hunt. This process can be lengthy, lasting until maturity at 9 to 10 months.

Asiatic Wildcat, (Felis silvestris ornata) is the Asian subspeciaes of the wildcat. This specimen was encounter in the Desert National Park, close to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Licensed from Shutterstock
Asiatic Wildcat, (Felis silvestris ornata) is the Asian subspeciaes of the wildcat. This specimen was encounter in the Desert National Park, close to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Who preys on Wildcats

Not much preys on predators in general. The European wildcat doesn’t have too many large predators in its regions. They have been wiped out or severely reduced by human activity. However, a bigger cat, like the Eurasian lynx, could prey on them, especially on the young. Foxes and wolves, as well. The Asian and African wildcats are more likely to encounter several larger predators – hyenas and jackals come to mind. Like most of the smaller cats, their main predators are larger cats, and the risk is highest as kittens.

African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) in the dry grass of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in northern South Africa. The coloring makes it hard to spot in the dry season against the parched grasses, but it is still more visible than when the cat hides in the more luxurious bush during the wetter periods of the year.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) in the dry grass of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in northern South Africa. The coloring makes it hard to spot in the dry season against the parched grasses, but it is still more visible than when the cat hides in the more luxurious bush during the wetter periods of the year.

How long do Wildcats live?

The average age and lifespan are significantly different for the wildcats. For example, the majority of European wildcats don’t survive to maturity. Those that do probably live to about ten years, maybe as much as 15. Slightly better conditions in Africa mean that more survive kittenhood, though like most animals, mortality of the young is very high.

Wildcats and their ecosystem

The wildcat has a role as a predator of small prey in its habitat. Small dogs like foxes would have similar roles in the ecosystem, but as they are subtly different predators, we need to work to protect the entire ecosystem and the wildcat as much as anything else.

This African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) was spotted in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the north of South Africa. The wildcat is extremely widespread but there are three major subspecies. As you can see in this photo the legs of the African subspecies are significantly longer compared to the European one.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
This African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) was spotted in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the north of South Africa. The wildcat is extremely widespread but there are three major subspecies. As you can see in this photo the legs of the African subspecies are significantly longer compared to the European one.

Conservation status and human impact on Wildcats

The wildcat is very widespread, and its conservation status depends on the region. The individual subspecies are threatened in certain areas. For example, the isolated population in Scotland might now be almost completely hybrid with the feral domestic cat.

Similarly, in Germany, we find a lot of hybridization. However, as we go through the Balkans towards the southeast, we see less hybridization.

The Asian and African Wildcats don’t suffer from the same difficulties as their populations are more robust.

The Wildcat (Felis silvestris) has three major subspecies. Felis silvestris lybica is found across most of the African continent.As you can see in this photo the legs of the African subspecies are significantly longer compared to the European one.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
The Wildcat (Felis silvestris) has three major subspecies. Felis silvestris lybica is found across most of the African continent. As you can see in this photo the legs of the African subspecies are significantly longer compared to the European one.

Other important information about Wildcats

There are two things of note about the wildcat. One, the wildcat is the origin of our domestic cat, probably from Egypt or the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. The other is that the species and taxonomy have been a bit confusing over time.

The 2015 update from the IUCN listed Felis silvestris as having three “traditional” Subspecies. These are the three I describe on this page:
Felis silvestris silvestris: The European and forest dwelling cat
Felis silvestris lybica: The African and mostly savanna dwelling cat.
Felis silvestris ornata: The Asian wildcat that is most often found in the steppe land of Asia.

While researching and writing, they have changed their taxonomy to Felis silvestris (European) andFelis lybica (Afro-Asian).

While I hope I can count myself as an expert on finding and photographing cats, I am not in a position to sway the argument of speciation.

There some consider other subspecies, such as grampia in Scotland and cafra in Southern Africa. Also, some considerFelis bieti to be correctly Felis silvestris bieti and not an individual species after all. I have included it separately on this site in the same way the IUCN treats it.

In this image, the Asiatic wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata) exhibits its incredible camouflage abilities, seamlessly blending into the desert surroundings near Jaisalmer, India. This adaptation enables it to thrive in the arid landscape.
Licensed from Shutterstock
In this image, the Asiatic wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata) exhibits its incredible camouflage abilities, seamlessly blending into the desert surroundings near Jaisalmer, India. This adaptation enables it to thrive in the arid landscape.

Wildcat in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Felis silvestris
French Names
Chat Sauvage, Chat Orné, Chat Forestier
German Names
Wildkatze
Spanish Names
Gato Montés, Gato Silvestre
Swahili Names
Paka-pori

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