Felis silvestris

European wildcat

Felis silvestris

European wildcat

Description

This is one of the two wild cats of Poland, and the only wild cat of Great Britain. It lives in Europe and eastern Russia. The wildcat is the size of a domestic cat. It has a broad head and ears spaced far apart.

The European wildcat’s fur changes at different times of the year, as the cat is exposed to extreme weather conditions. In winter, the coat is thick and long, and in summer this cat becomes thinner and lighter. Although the wildcat has longer legs than the domestic cat, in winter legs look as if they were much shorter. The colour of the wildcat can be described as a mixture of grey and brown, in various proportions. Each individual has a pattern of dark stripes on the forehead and a dark line along the spine.

The European wildcat’s tail, proportional to the rest of the body, has a broad tip. It is finished with a few black rings, and the tip looks like it is soaked in ink.

The wildcat has four fingers in the back paws, and five in the front. The claws are curved and the cat hides them when they are not needed. It is a cat with narrow pupils with eyes having an inner membrane that replaced the eyelid.

Behaviour

This European cat is fond of forests, steppes and areas covered with bushes. The European wildcat also likes water reservoirs and you can meet it on the banks of the seas and in the swamps. However, this is not so easy as this cat avoids contact with people.

The wildcat is a loner and a night hunter. However, it was observed that these cats communicate with their neighbours through smell, sound and sometimes even direct meetings.

The European wildcat can climb trees and often spends time in their branches. But it hunts only on the ground, planning to attack the victim with a surprise. Their basic source of food is mice, rats and moles. Complementary they also hunt other small animals like frogs, insects, lizards, birds or skunks. The European wildcat will not also despise food left behind by another predator.

Wildcats have such a great hearing that they can even hear ultrasounds, thanks to which they are able to catch a victim without seeing it. Their eyes are adapted to half-darkness and have a large depth, which allows cats to see even small movements.

Wildcats have fragrance glands on the forehead, around the mouth and at the tail. By rubbing them on objects, they mark their territory. Males additionally use urine for this purpose.

They also communicate by means of visual signals like fur bristling, face making, tail wagging. Wildcats can also emit various unpleasant sounds and pleasant purring.

The mating season lasts from January to March and during this time the vocal activity of wildcats increases. Kittens are born in spring in April or May with closed eyes and inability to move. After ten days, they begin to open their eyes to the new world.

Already after thirty days, cubs start eating meat. However, they learn to hunt alone after about three months from birth, when the mother brings them a wounded animal to practice killing. Kittens grow up at different rates, some are able to live alone at the age of five months, and others only after ten. The sexual maturity of both males and females is reached before the end of the first year of life.

When males smell a female in heat, they all move towards her. Trying to gain her attention, they yowl, screech and fight among themselves. The female wildcat interacts with many males and kittens from one litter can thus have different fathers.

Threats

The European wildcat’s population is decreasing all the time, however it is assigned to a group of endangered species that specialists do not care about much.

Feral domestic cats are a great threat to the genetic purity of wildcats. In Scotland, as many as 88% of wild cats are a hybrids of the domestic cat and the wildcat.

In this country, the European wildcat is also perceived as a pest and illegally exterminated.

Feral domestic cats exhibit other behaviours, such as forming a colony with a strict hierarchy and hybrids of the wildcat and the domestic cat may not match to any species.

The European wildcat is also threatened by the extermination of their basic prey by humans and the transformation of wild areas into developed ones.

Natural threats for kittens are wolves, foxes, other cats or even birds of prey. Adult wildcats are very fierce and can defend themselves even from much larger animals.

Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz

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