European wildcat

European wildcat

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Felis silvestris silvestris
Life Span
15 YEARS

The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a small wildcat species native to continental Europe, Scotland, Turkey and the Caucasus. It inhabits forests from the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe to the Caucasus. Its fur is brownish to grey with stripes on the forehead and on the sides and has a bushy tail with a black tip. It reaches a head-to-body length of up to 65 cm with a 34.5 cm long tail, and weighs up to 7.5 kg.

No

Nocturnal

Cr

Crepuscular

Ca

Carnivore

Te

Terrestrial

Al

Altricial

Vi

Viviparous

Te

Territorial

Pr

Predator

Po

Polygamy

So

Solitary

No

Not a migrant

E

starts with

Distribution

Geography

The European wildcat lives primarily in broad-leaved and mixed forests. It avoids intensively cultivated areas and settlements. The northernmost population lives in northern and eastern Scotland. It has been extirpated in England and Wales.

There are two disconnected populations in France. The one in the Ardennes in the country's north-east extends to Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium. The other in southern France may be connected via the Pyrenees to populations in Spain and Portugal.

In the Netherlands, European wildcats were recorded in 1999 near Nijmegen and in 2004 in North Brabant; these individuals had possibly dispersed from Germany. In Germany, the Rhine is a major barrier between the population in Eifel and Hunsrück mountains west of the river and populations east of the river, where a six-lane highway hampers dispersal.

In Switzerland, European wildcats are present in the Jura Mountains. Three fragmented populations in Italy comprise one in the country's central and southern part, one in the eastern Alps that may be connected to populations in Slovenia and Croatia. The Sicilian population is the only Mediterranean insular population that has not been introduced.

The population in the Polish Carpathian Mountains extends to northern Slovakia and western Ukraine.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

In France and Italy, the European wildcat is active foremost at night; in undisturbed sites, it is also active by day.

In Sicily, an individual was photographed in 2009 and again in 2018 at about the same location. It was probably at least 10 years old at the time of recapture.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Small rodents (mice, rats, and voles) are the primary prey of the wildcat, followed by birds (especially waterfowl such as ducks, galliformes, passerines, and pigeons), dormice, hares, insectivores, and nutria.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
December-February, May-July
PREGNANCY DURATION
60-68 days
BABY CARRYING
1-7 kittens
INDEPENDENT AGE
140-150 days
BABY NAME
Kitten

Wildcats are polygynous. At the time a female is ready to mate, males in the area gather near her and compete for access. The wildcat has an estrus period in December to February and another one in May to July. The gestation period lasts for 60 to 68 days. Litters range in size from 1 to 7 kittens. The young start hunting alongside their mothers when they are 60 days old, and after 140 to 150 days will begin to move independently. Kittens are more or less fully grown at 10 months, though growth of the skeleton continues past 18 to 19 months. The family disbands after about five months, the kittens going off to establish territories for themselves. Females are sexually mature from about 6 months.

Population

Population threats

Wildcats are under threat from habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Further threats to European wildcats are population isolation, collisions with automobiles, and diseases transmitted via domestic cats.

Population number

Interbreeding with domestic cats makes it very difficult to estimate the wildcat population size. In some areas, estimations have been made for specific populations: Scotland: 1,000 to 4,000 individuals, Germany: 1,700 to 5,000, Slovenia: 2,000 or less; Poland: 100 to 150, Slovakia: about 1,500, and Romania: 10,000.

Ecological niche

Wildcats have an important role controlling populations of rodents as well as other small mammals. It is this activity that likely led them to domestication.

Domestication

The ancient Egyptians were thought to have been the first people to domesticate the cat, just four thousand years ago. However, in 2004 French researchers in Cyprus discovered the ninety-five-hundred-year-old remains of a cat and a human buried together. More recently, an analysis of cat teeth and bones from a fifty-three-hundred-year-old Chinese settlement indicated that cats were eating grains, rodents, and leftovers from human meals. It would seem that after the advent of agriculture, cats in Asia and the Near East began to gather near grain stores and farms, where there were many mice and rats. Humans tolerated the exterminators of these pests, and the cats became more and more comfortable around people. Whether this association came about five or ten millennia in the past, evidence suggests cats were not in the human domestic domain for as long a period as dogs, these animals having been human companions for maybe forty thousand years.

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