The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a small wildcat subspecies found in Europe. Wildcats and the other members of the cat family had a common ancestor about 10-15 million years ago. The European wildcat evolved during the Cromerian Stage about 866,000 to 478,000 years ago; its direct ancestor was Martelli’s cat (Felis lunensis).
Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is "nocturnal",...
A carnivore meaning 'meat eater' is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of a...
Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land (e.g., cats, ants, snails), as compared with aquatic animals, which liv...
Altricial animals are those species whose newly hatched or born young are relatively immobile. They lack hair or down, are not able to obtain food ...
Among animals, viviparity is the development of the embryo inside the body of the parent. The term 'viviparity' and its adjective form 'viviparous'...
A territory is a sociographical area that which an animal consistently defends against the conspecific competition (or, occasionally, against anima...
Ambush predators are carnivorous animals that capture or trap prey by stealth, luring, or by (typically instinctive) strategies utilizing an elemen...
Polygyny is a mating system in which one male lives and mates with multiple females but each female only mates with a single male.
NoNot a migrant
Animals that do not make seasonal movements and stay in their native home ranges all year round are called not migrants or residents.
The European wildcat's fur varies in color from brownish to grey with paler contour hairs. It has five stripes on the forehead, which are broken up into small spots. A dark stripe behind the shoulders expands into a spinal stripe running up to the base of the tail. On the sides, it has irregular dark stripes, which break up on the hind legs, thus forming a blotched pattern. Its tail is bushy with two to three black, transverse rings and rounded at the black tip. The top of the head and the forehead bear four well-developed dark bands that split into small spots. Two short and narrow stripes are usually present in the shoulder region, in front of the dorsal band. Some individuals have a few light spots on the throat, between the forelegs, or in the inguinal region. The dorsal surface of the neck and head are the same color as that of the trunk but are lighter grey around the eyes, lips, cheeks, and chin. A slight ochreous shade is visible on the undersides of the flanks. A black and narrow dorsal band starts on the shoulders and runs along the back up to the base of the tail. In some animals, the summer coat is ashen-colored.
European wildcats are found in Europe, Scotland, and Sicily. There are two disconnected populations in France. The one in the Ardennes in the country's northeast extends to Luxembourg, Germany, and Belgium. The other in southern France may be connected via the Pyrenees to populations in Spain and Portugal. 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. European wildcats live primarily in broad-leaved and mixed forests, woodlands, grasslands, scrublands, along riparian habitats and usually avoid intensively cultivated areas and settlements.
European wildcats are predominantly nocturnal, but may also be active in the daytime when undisturbed by human activities. Sight and hearing are the wildcat's primary senses when hunting. It lies in wait for prey, then catches it by executing a few leaps, which can span three meters. When hunting near water courses, it waits on trees overhanging the water. It kills its prey by grabbing it in its claws and piercing the neck or occiput with its fangs. It does not persist in attacking if prey manages to escape. Wildcats are mainly solitary, except during the mating period. Within its own territory, the wildcat deposits scent marks at different sites, and it may also leave visual markers on trees by scratching them as well as leaving scent through glands on its paws. Wildcats shelter in the hollows of fallen or old trees, rock fissures, and abandoned burrows by other animals, never digging their own burrow. When threatened, they retreat into a burrow, rather than climb trees.
European wildcats have a carnivorous diet. In Western Europe, they feed on hamsters, brown rats, dormice, Water voles, voles, and Wood mice. From time to time, they also prey on martens, European polecats, stoats, and Least weasels, as well as fawns of Red deer, Roe deer, and chamois. In the Carpathians, wildcats feed primarily on Yellow-necked mice, Northern red-backed voles, Tatra pine voles, and occasionally also European hares. In Moldova, the wildcat's winter diet consists primarily of rodents, while it preys on birds, fish, and crayfish in summer. Brown rats and water voles, as well as muskrats and waterfowl, are the main sources of food for wildcats in the Kuban River delta. Wildcats in the northern Caucasus feed on mouse-like rodents and Edible dormice, as well as birds, young chamois, and Roe deer on rare occasions. Wildcats on the Black Sea coast are thought to feed on small birds, shrews, and hares. In Transcaucasia, the wildcat's diet consists of gerbils, voles, birds, and reptiles in the summer, and birds, mouse-like rodents, and hares in winter.
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of European wildcats. In general, wildcats are polygynous meaning that one male mates with more than one female during the breeding season. The gestation period usually 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. Kittens are more or less fully grown at 10 months, though the growth of the skeleton continues past 18 to 19 months. The family disbands after about 5 months, the kittens going off to establish territories for themselves. Females become reproductively mature from about 6 months.
In most European countries, European wildcats have become rare. Although legally protected, they are still shot by people mistaking them for feral cats. In the Scottish Highlands, interbreeding with feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population's distinctiveness. The population in Portugal and Spain are also threatened by interbreeding with feral cats and loss of habitat. The extent of hybridization is low in Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg. In the 1990s, the easternmost population in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus was threatened by the destruction of broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small numbers occur in protected areas.
According to IUCN Red List, the European wildcat is locally widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. However, there are estimated populations in the following areas: 25,600 individuals for the extant area of the Western-Central European metapopulation including 5,000-10,000 individuals in Germany; less than 400 mature individuals in Albania; more than 2,000 individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina; 1,610-4,375 individuals in Bulgaria; 2,216-2,683 individuals in Croatia; 8,005-9,150 individuals in Romania; 860 (794-926) mature individuals in the Andalusia region (Spain); and 40 individuals in Scotland. Currently, the European wildcat is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Wildcats play important role in their native ecosystem because they control populations of rodents and small mammals they prey on. It is this activity that likely led them to domestication.