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European Wildcat Fact File

Felis silvestris

Credit: Michael Gäbler, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

3-8kg

(6-18lbs)

Length

35-75cm

(13.75-29.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 12-16 years

Captive 12-16 years

Diet

Carnivore

Rodents, Frogs, Birds

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The European wildcat is known from across much of Europe. They were until recently listed as one species with the African wildcat but have now been listed as a separate species.

These animals are carnivores which primarily feed on rodents and rabbits. This is supplemented with birds, frogs, reptiles and small amounts of carrion.

A female European wildcat will give birth to a litter of up to seven kittens which are born after a 64-71 day gestation day gestation period. They grow quickly and become independent by 5 months old. They will breed in their first season.

These animals have suffered declines across their range primarily due to interbreeding with domestic cats along with competing with them for food. Poisoning and vehicle strikes also threaten this species.

Read on to learn more about the magical mammals.

Appearance

What does the European wildcat look like?

European wildcats are similar in their appearance to a domestic tabby cat. Across their body the fur is grey and thick in the winter to help keep them warm. Patterning this coat is black stripes across the head, neck and limbs with the most distinct being a stripe along the back. They have short legs.

The body ends with a long tail that has a blunt tip at its end. This tail is colored the same as the body with the tip being black and dark rings along its length. It adds 25.7-32.6cm (10-12.8in) long.

Their claws are retractable to assist in keeping them sharp

Melanism is recorded in the similar African wildcat but has never been seen in Europe.

An average European wildcat will measure 35-75cm (13.75-29.5in) long with a weight of 3-8kg (6-18lbs). Males tend to be larger than females.

Diet

What does the European wildcat eat?


European wildcats are carnivores. Their diet includes invertebrates, birds, frogs, reptiles and small mammals such as rodents and even smaller carnivores such as martens.

On rare occasions the species has been recorded to take carrion.

The main prey item across much of their range is rabbits.

European Wildcat

Credit: Aconcagua, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the European wildcat?

Europe is the native home of the European wildcat. Here they can be found across much of the European mainland and in to Turkey along with a population in Scotland.

The species is considered extinct in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, England and Wales. Previously considered extinct in the Netherlands they are now thought to be returning to this area once again.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the European wildcat live in?

They make their home in forest, scrubland and coastal habitats.

European wildcats will seek shelter in a hollowed out tree. They will also make use of the abandoned nests of other animals such as foxes and badgers.

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Reproduction

How does the European wildcat produce its young?

Breeding takes place from January to March. These animals are solitary outside of the breeding season. In some areas a female will breed twice in one year but typically only when they lose their first litter.

Females give birth after a gestation period of 64-71 days. A litter will include between one and seven kittens.

The kittens are provided milk by their mother until they are weaned by 3.5-4.5 months old. They will first try out solid food at one month old.

These animals will achieve their independence by 5-10 months old.

Sexual maturity is reached by 11 months old for females and 10 months old for males.

This species can interbreed with the domestic cat limiting its genetic purity.

Behavior

What does the European wildcat do with its day?

European wildcats are primarily active by night. In areas where there are few humans they are primarily active around dawn and dusk.

They are considered solitary and will only come together during the breeding season to mate.

To communicate with one another they will scent mark their environment. Some vocalizations are also used during the breeding season.

These animals are skilled climbers but rarely take to the trees when hunting.

Each European wildcat will maintain its own habitat.

European Wildcat

Credit: Aconcagua, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the European wildcat?

Natural predators of this species include red foxes and birds of prey such as owls and hawks.

These animals are threatened across their range. The main threat is hybridization with domestic cats which is leading to a loss of genetic variation and adaptations. Few pure wildcats remain in the wild.

Even pure wildcats are threatened through competition with feral cats for food and the transmission of diseases.

They are subject to vehicle strikes and may suffer secondary poisoning from rodenticides.

Across much of their range this species was previously seen as a pest and subject to persecution.

Quick facts

Previously the European wildcat was grouped with the African wildcat as a single species under the scientific name, Felis silvestris. They have now been split with the European wildcat having retained the original scientific name and the African wildcat now listed as Felis lybica.

Two subspecies of the European wildcat have been listed. These are Felis silvestris silvestris found in Europe, including Scotland, Sicily and Crete and Felis silvestris caucasica found in Caucasus and Turkey.

These animals may also be known as the forest wildcat. In Scotland the species is given the nickname of the 'Highland tiger.'

European Wildcat

Credit: Michael Gäbler, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Wildcatconservation.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/eurasia/european-wildcat/> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

Felidaefund.org. 2021. European Wildcat | Felidae Conservation Fund. [online] Available at: <http://www.felidaefund.org/?q=species-european-wildcat> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

Wild Cat Family. 2021. European Wildcat (Felis silvestris) Classification – Wild Cat Family. [online] Available at: <https://www.wildcatfamily.com/felis-lineage/european-wildcat-felis-silvestris/> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

Bigcatswildcats.com. 2021. European Wildcat | European Wildcat Conservation. [online] Available at: <https://bigcatswildcats.com/european-wildcat/> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

Dewey, T. 2005. "Felis silvestris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 06, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Felis_silvestris/

Wildwood Kent. 2021. European Wildcat. [online] Available at: <https://kent.wildwoodtrust.org/animals/scottish-wildcat/> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

Animal Experiences At Wingham Wildlife Park In Kent. 2021. European Wild Cat – Animal Experiences At Wingham Wildlife Park In Kent. [online] Available at: <https://winghamwildlifepark.co.uk/animal/european-wild-cat/> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

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