There is a wide variation is cat ear size and shape both for wild cats and cat breeds. It seems that the cat breeders have followed the lead of the wild cats in selectively breeding for different ear size, shape and even the position of the ear on the head. I have divided this page into three sections: (a) looking at the similarities in variation between the cat breeds and wild cat species, (b) wild cat ear size and shape and (c) cat breed ear size and shape. Note: cat breeds are all one species of cat, Felis silvestris catus, a subspecies of the wild cat. There are 36 wild cat species.
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Cat Breeds and Wild Cats
The difference between the tiger, which has small ears on the side of the head, and the serval, which has large ears on top of the head is reflected in the ears of the Persian and the Sphynx cat breeds.
The tiger has ear size and shape similar to the Persian cat but these two cats really are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in the cat world. The serval and the Sphynx cats have very large ears. Pallas’s cat (see right) was thought at one time to be the wildcat ancestor of the Persian. They have similar ear shape and position.
The reason why the Persian has small ears is because it compliments the breed standard which requires a round head. Large pointed ears would destroy that image. The experts don’t write about the tiger’s small ears. The reason must be because the tiger depends less on sound than the serval. The tiger is probably more a visual hunter whereas the serval has large ears because it does a lot of hunting using sound detection in long grass. It pounces on small prey located by sound. The Sphynx has large ears because breeders think that it looks good. Large ears are part of the breed standard. In both instances, for wild cats the reason for the shape and size of a piece of anatomy is purely functional. For the cat breeds it is always about aesthetics – what the breeders think looks interesting and attractive. There is no functional purpose to alter the standard ear size and shape.
Ear hair is another interesting area. The caracal has extraordinarily long ear tufts. They are used for communication. Of all the cat breeds the Maine Coon is known for ear tufts and ear hair (called “ear furnishings” by people who show cats).
Wild cats: Function – Cat Breeds: Form and aesthetics
The species that are the “wild cats” have standard sized and shaped ears. The same applies to the random bred cats.
Wild Cat Ears
You could list the cat ear size and shape of all 36 wild cats. That would be excessive I think. Below I list the wildcats with the largest and the smallest ears. Cats not mentioned are in the broad middle ground.
Large eared wildcats
Small eared wildcats
- snow leopard (smallish)
- bay cat
- Pallas’s cat – with ears submerged in fur this cat look a bit like the Persian purebred cat.
Often wild cat ears are set wide apart on the side of skull rather than on the top. The serval and caracal are exceptions.
Domestic Purebred Cats
Selective breeding has resulted in a wide range of cat ear size and shapes. The breed standards of each breed will dictate in general terms the size and positioning of ears. Breeders have quite a lot of discretion in deciding how to interpret the breed standards.
Cat breeds with cat ears that are abnormal due to a genetic mutation are the American Curl (and dwarf cat: Kinkalow) and Scottish Fold. In the both the ear flap cartilage forms abnormally when the kitten develops.
The American Curl breed standard grades the amount of curl and both the Curl and the Fold must have ears that match the breed standard otherwise the cat will not be a show cat and become someone’s companion instead.
Purebred cats with large ears are:
- Elf (unrecognised cat, however)
- Cornish Rex
- Oriental Shorthair (see above left)
- Maine Coon (largish)
- Modern Siamese (see above right)
- Modern Balinese
Cats with small ears are:
- Exotic Shorthair
- Tiger – wwarby
- Serval – Tambako the Jaguar
- Persian, Sphynx – Helmi Flick
- Caracal – Ian Sane
- Maine Coon, Fold, Curl, Modern Siamese, Oriental shorthair – Helmi Flick
- Domestic tabby – Colin+Alison Warner
- Wild cat – Jonnee
- Pallas’s cat – muzina_shanghai