5 small cats can make a living in the desert

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Although there is only one true desert-living small cat, the sand cat, there are four other small wild cat species that can make a living in the desert: Pallas’s cat, bobcat, Andean cat and pampas cat.

Bobcats occur in four deserts of North America. The bobcat has a very wide distribution which is why they encounter entirely different landscapes and climates. The deserts in which you might find a bobcat are the: Chihuahuan Desert, Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert and Great Basin Desert.

The sand cat is found across the Saharan Desert and the deserts of the Middle East.

Pallas’s cat (manual) is found in the arid Asian steppe.

The Andean cat and the pampas cat are found in the Andes of South America which includes the Atacama Desert. In these deserts the winters are very cold and summers are extremely hot. Often years can pass without measurable rainfall.

The sand cat is uniquely adapted to desert living being able to survive without drinking water and taking all the water they need from their prey animals. Their ears are large and set low on the head. They have long hair growing between the paw pads and toes which function to protect them from the excess heat of the desert sand. They spend the day in burrows made by other desert-dwelling animals and emerge at night to travel long distances over a large range to find food.

The bobcat is remarkably adaptable as it is found, for example, in the state of Maine where there are cold winters and deep snow. And they are also found as mentioned in the deserts of Mexico where summer temperatures are very high.

The Andean cat has a thick dense coat and a bushy tail which James Sanderson PhD claims helps to keep them warm by acting as a scarf around their face. I’m not sure that is true but it’s a nice touch. Pallas’s cat has similar adaptations to their anatomy to deal with these temperature fluctuations.

Note: I have omitted the Chinese mountain or desert cat as this name is somewhat misleading as this species lives in a range of habitats including semi-desert regions.

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