|Distribution of the European wildcat in 2015|
The European wildcat (Felis silvestris) is a 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. It has been extirpated in England and Wales.
In France and Italy, the European wildcat is predominantly nocturnal, but also active in the daytime when undisturbed by human activities.
Felis (catus) silvestris was the scientific name proposed in 1778 by Johann von Schreber when he described a wild cat based on texts from the early 18th century and before.In the 19th and 20th centuries, several wildcat type specimens were described and proposed as subspecies, including:
Zoological specimens of cats that originated on Mediterranean islands are not considered native but introduced, including:
Phylogenetic analysis of the nuclear DNA in tissue samples from all Felidae species revealed that the evolutionary radiation of the Felidae began in Asia in the Miocene around. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA of all Felidae species indicates a radiation at around .
The European wildcat is part of an evolutionary lineage that is estimated to have genetically diverged from the common ancestor of the Felis species around, based on analysis of their nuclear DNA. Analysis of their mitochondrial DNA indicates a genetic divergence from Felis at around . Both models agree in the jungle cat (F. chaus) having been the first Felis species that diverged, followed by the black-footed cat (F. nigripes), the sand cat (F. margarita), the African wildcat (F. lybica) and then the European wildcat.
Fossil remains of small wild cats found in Europe indicate that the European wildcat probably descended from Felis lunensis in the Villafranchian more than years ago., a transition that was completed by the Holstein interglacial about 340,000 to 325,000
The European wildcat's fur varies in colour 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. 7 cm (2.8 in), the tip hairs 5.5–6 cm (2.2–2.4 in), and the underfur 4.5–5.5 in (110–140 mm). Corresponding measurements in the summer are 5–6.7 cm (2.0–2.6 in), 4.5–6 cm (1.8–2.4 in), and 5.3 cm (2.1 in).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 colour as that of the trunk, but is 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 coloured. The patterns on the head and neck are as well-developed as those on the tail, though the patterns on the flanks are almost imperceptible. Guard hairs measure
Large males in Spain reach 65 cm (26 in) in length, with a 34.5 cm (13.6 in) long tail, and weigh up to 7.5 kg (17 lb). They also have a less diffuse stripe pattern, proportionally larger teeth, and feed more often on rabbits than the wildcats north of the Douro-Ebro, which are more dependent on small rodents.
The European wildcat is on average bigger and stouter than the domestic cat, has longer fur and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has striped fur and a dark dorsal band. 5 kg (11 lb) up to 8 kg (18 lb), and females 3.5 kg (7.7 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).Males average a weight of
European wildcats have proportionately shorter cheek tooth rows with smaller teeth, but a broader muzzle than African wildcats.Since European wildcats and domestic cats opportunistically interbreed, it is difficult to distinguish wildcats and striped hybrids correctly on the basis of only morphological characteristics.
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. 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.
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.
In Western Europe, the wildcat feeds on hamsters, brown rats, dormice, water voles, voles, and wood mice. From time to time, it also preys on small carnivores like martens, European polecat, stoat, and least weasel (Mustela nivalis), as well as fawns of red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra). In the Carpathians, the wildcat feeds primarily on yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis), northern red-backed vole (Myodes rutilus), Tatra pine vole (Microtus tatricus), and occasionally also European hare (Lepus europaeus). In Transcarpathia, the wildcat's diet consists of mouse-like rodents, galliformes, and squirrels. In the Dnestr swamps, it preys on Microtus , water voles, and birds, while those living in the Prut swamps primarily target water vole, brown rat, and muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus). Birds taken by Prut wildcats include warblers, ferruginous duck, Eurasian coot, spotted crake, and gadwall. In Moldavia, 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. On one occasion, the feathers of a white-tailed eagle and the skull of a kid were found at a den site. 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.
The Scottish wildcat mainly preys on European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), field vole (Microtus agrestis), bank vole (Myodes glareolus), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), and birds.
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, where approximately 400 were thought to remain in the wild in 2004, interbreeding with feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population's distinctiveness.The population in Portugal and Spain is 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 destruction of broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small numbers occur in protected areas.
The European wildcat is protected in most European range countries. It is listed in CITES Appendix II, in Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and in the European Union's Habitats and Species Directive.
In 2004, the Friends of the Earth Germany initiated the project "Safety Net for the European Wildcat". This project aimed at relinking Germany's forests by planting bushes and trees between areas inhabited by and suitable for European wildcat, and which are larger than 500 km2 (190 sq mi). They developed the "Wildcat Routing Map", a map depicting the 20,000 km (12,000 mi) long network of corridors. An Action Plan for the Protection of the European Wildcat in Germany was developed in 2009, aiming at doubling the area inhabited by European wildcat and linking populations within Germany and with neighbouring countries until 2019.
In 2013, the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group developed the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. With this plan, the group set national action priorities and defined responsibilities of agencies and funding priorities for conservation efforts between 2013 and 2019. Its implementation is coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage.However, the population has been deemed no longer viable.
The European wildcat has the reputation for being effectively impossible to raise as a pet. Naturalist Frances Pitt wrote "there was a time when I did not believe this ... my optimism was daunted" by trying to keep a wildcat she named Beelzebina.
In England, conservationists plan to start a captive breeding programme in 2019 with the aim to reintroduce cats into the wild by 2022.
Felidae is a family of mammals in the order Carnivora, colloquially referred to as cats, and constitutes a clade. A member of this family is also called a felid. The term "cat" refers both to felids in general and specifically to the domestic cat.
Felis is a genus of small and medium-sized cat species native to most of Africa and south of 60° latitude in Europe and Asia to Indochina. The genus includes the domestic cat. The smallest Felis species is the black-footed cat with a head and body length from 38 to 42 cm. The largest is the jungle cat with a head and body length from 62 to 76 cm.
The wildcat is a species complex comprising two small wild cat species, the European wildcat and the African wildcat. The European wildcat inhabits forests in Europe and the Caucasus, while the African wildcat inhabits semi-arid landscapes and steppes in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, into western India and western China. The wildcat species differ in fur pattern, tail, and size: the European wildcat has long fur and a bushy tail with a rounded tip; the smaller African wildcat is more faintly striped, has short sandy-gray fur and a tapering tail; the Asiatic wildcat is spotted.
The jungle cat, also called reed cat and swamp cat, is a medium-sized cat native to the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and southern China. It inhabits foremost wetlands like swamps, littoral and riparian areas with dense vegetation. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, and is mainly threatened by destruction of wetlands, trapping and poisoning.
The Chinese mountain cat, also known as Chinese desert cat and Chinese steppe cat, is a wild cat endemic to western China that has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2002, as the effective population size may be fewer than 10,000 mature breeding individuals.
A feral cat is an un-owned domestic cat that lives outdoors and avoids human contact: it does not allow itself to be handled or touched, and usually remains hidden from humans. Feral cats may breed over dozens of generations and become an aggressive apex predator in urban, savannah and bushland environments. Some feral cats may become more comfortable with people who regularly feed them, but even with long-term attempts at socialization, they usually remain aloof and are most active after dusk.
Prionailurus is a genus of spotted, small wild cats native to Asia. Forests are their preferred habitat; they feed on small mammals, reptiles and birds, and occasionally aquatic wildlife.
The Felinae are a subfamily of the family Felidae. This subfamily comprises the small cats having a bony hyoid, because of which they are able to purr but not roar.
The Cretan wildcat is a member of the genus Felis that inhabits the Greek island of Crete. Its taxonomic status is unclear at present, as some biologists consider it probably introduced, or a European wildcat, or a hybrid between European wildcat and domestic cat . Felis silvestris cretensis was proposed as scientific name for the Cretan wildcat in 1953 by Theodor Haltenorth. He described two cat skins that were purchased in a bazaar in Chania and resembled a skin of an African wildcat, but with a bushy tail like a European wildcat. In the 1980s, Colin Groves measured and assessed zoological specimens of cats that originated in the Mediterranean islands. He concluded that the two cat skins from Crete differed from true wildcat specimens and therefore considered them feral cats.
The Asiatic wildcat is an African wildcat subspecies that occurs from the eastern Caspian Sea north to Kazakhstan, into western India, western China and southern Mongolia. It is also known as the Asian steppe wildcat and Indian desert cat. The status Least Concern in the IUCN Red List is attributed to the wildcat species complex. There is no information on current status or population numbers for the Asiatic wildcat's entire range, but populations are thought to be declining.
The African wildcat is a wildcat species native to Africa, West and Central Asia up to Rajasthan in India and Xinjiang in China. The IUCN Red List status Least Concern is attributed to the species Felis silvestris, which at the time of assessment also included the African wildcat as a subspecies.
The Caucasian wildcat is a European wildcat subspecies that inhabits the Caucasus Mountains and Turkey.
Felis chaus chaus is the nominate subspecies of the jungle cat.
Felis lunensis is an extinct felid of the subfamily Felinae.
The Scottish wildcat is a European wildcat population in Scotland. This population is estimated to comprise between 1,000 and 4,000 individuals, of which about 400 cats are thought to meet the morphological and genetic criteria of a wildcat. The Scottish wildcat population used to be widely distributed across Britain, but has declined drastically since the turn of the 20th century due to habitat loss and persecution. It is now limited to north and east Scotland. It is listed as Critically Endangered in the United Kingdom and is primarily threatened by hybridization with domestic cats. Camera-trapping surveys carried out in the Scottish Highlands between 2010 and 2013 revealed that wildcats live foremost in mixed woodland, whereas feral and domestic cats were photographed mostly in grasslands.
The Southern African wildcat is an African wildcat subspecies native to Southern and Eastern Africa. In 2007, it was tentatively recognised as a distinct subspecies on the basis of genetic analysis. Morphological evidence indicates that the split between the African wildcat subspecies in Africa occurred in the area of Tanzania and Mozambique.
The Arabian wildcat, also called Gordon's wildcat is a wildcat subspecies that inhabits the Arabian Peninsula. It was first described in 1968 by British zoologist David Harrison who named it Felis silvestris gordoni in honour of Major A.C. Gordon who collected the type specimen in Oman.
Schauenberg's index is the ratio of skull length to cranial capacity. This index was introduced by Paul Schauenberg in 1969 as a method to identify European wildcat skulls and distinguish them from domestic cat skulls.
The family Felidae, to which all living feline species belong, arose about ten to eleven million years ago. This family is divided into eight major phylogenetic lineages. The domestic cat is a member of the Felis lineage. A number of investigations have shown that all domestic varieties of cats come from a single species of the Felis lineage, Felis catus. Variations of this lineage are found all over the world and up until recently scientists have had a hard time pinning down exactly which region gave rise to modern domestic cat breeds. Scientists believed that it was not just one incident that led to the domesticated cat but multiple, independent incidents at different places that lead to these breeds. More complications arose from the fact that the wildcat population as a whole is very widespread and very similar to one another. These variations of wild cat can and will interbreed freely with one another when in close contact further blurring the lines between taxa. Recent DNA studies, advancement in genetic technologies, and a better understanding of DNA and genetics as a whole has helped make discoveries in the evolutionary history of the domestic cat.
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