The Fishing cat is a “small” cat of medium size and stocky build, with short legs and a short tail, and a face that is round but elongated. Their scientific name comes from their viverrine or civet-like appearance rather than any adaptation for fishing. They have an olive gray coat which has a pattern of rows of parallel black spots which will often form stripes on their back. Females are noticeably smaller than males. A major difference between the fishing cat and its relatives is that its claws do not fully retract, the tips remaining sticking out a little from the sheath of skin they have on their toes, whereas most cats can retract their claws completely when they are not using them, in order to stop them from becoming blunt.
Fishing cats live in separate populations in Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka and parts of Pakistan, in western India to southern China, Java and Sumatra. They live mostly in wetland areas, both swamps and marshes. Fishing cats occur in heavily forested regions alongside rivers or near jungles. These cats also inhabit scrub areas, tidal creek areas and reed beds.
Habits and lifestyle
The Fishing cat is a solitary and nocturnal hunter that rests during the day amongst dense vegetation and then at night heads to the water to find food. They are extremely strong and able swimmers and can swim huge distances, often while pursuing a fish. These animals are largely territorial and occupy home ranges as large as 22 sq. km (although females often have ranges that are much smaller). The territory of a male overlaps those of a number of females within the area. Fishing cats are relatively adaptable creatures and some live in city suburbs close to human settlements where there is little vegetation. They communicate with guttural growls, hisses, and a low, demanding meow. During courtship they make a sound that is called chittering.
destruction (wild cats), clowder, clutter, pounce
Diet and nutrition
Fishing cats mainly eat fish, frogs, water insects, crabs, snakes, crayfish, rodents and birds.
Fishing cats are polygynous, with one male mating with multiple females. The breeding season is thought to be from January to February. At this time a female calls to the males in the area to indicate that she is ready for mating. After gestation of 60 to 70 days, 1 to 4 kittens are born. They grow fast, and at around 16 days old they open their eyes. They start eating meat about the 53rd day and at 4 to 6 months old they are weaned. They reach adult size at 8 to 9 months old and are independent when 10 months old. Males observed in captivity help females raise the young. At about 15 months old fishing cats are mature.
The major threat to the Fishing cat is wetland destruction, with more than 50% of Asian wetlands threatened and disappearing due to human settlement, pollution, drainage for agriculture, wood cutting and excessive hunting. The Fishing cat’s main prey has been greatly reduced by destructive fishing practices. Additionally, these cats in some parts of their range are hunted for medicine, food, and body parts, and have also been killed for taking domestic stock.
There are no estimates of population numbers for Fishing cat. IUCN reporting a decreasing population trend for this species and it is classified as Endangered (EN) on the List of Threatened Species.
Fun facts for kids
- Fishing cats in captivity have been seen taking cow’s meat to the water, dropping it in, and then taking it out and eating it. When offered live quail, this same washing behavior was observed.
- There is no evidence to show that the membrane between a Fishing cat's toes is for the specific purpose of swimming.
- Fishing cats have been known to swim underwater to grab the legs of a duck.
- Fishing cats may look cute and cuddly but they can be very aggressive.
- A cat’s ear contains 32 muscles and can rotate almost 180 degrees, so without turning its head, it is able to hear in several directions.
- When it swims, the Fishing cat is able to use its flattened, short tail like a rudder, to help control its direction.
- The Fishing cat fishes by patting the water to make tiny waves as if insects were landing on the water. Fish are attracted to this. When fish appear, the Fishing cat catches them in its paws or dives into the water to catch them.