European wildcat description – a wild-looking tabby cat

Take a domestic tabby cat, make them a little larger, make them more substantial with a thick and slightly longer and denser coat, make the tabby markings a little less pronounced and give the cat that classic, unneutered jowly appearance and you’ve got yourself a European wildcat. The same kind of description applies to the other subspecies of wildcat. Although the true domestic cat ancestor, the North African wildcat, is slenderer than the other subspecies perhaps because of the climate in which they live. The colder the climate the more substantial and stockier a cat becomes in order to retain heat and the warmer the climate the smaller the cat becomes and they become slenderer too. This allows them to expel heat rather than retain it. It’s evolution.

Although still being debated, the European wildcat (felis silvestris silvestris) is currently considered to be one of five subspecies2 of the wildcat according to the most recent DNA analysis (2007 Macdonald et al).

The others are the Asian wildcat (felis silvestris ornata) and African wildcat (felis silvestris lybica), Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis silvestris bieti) and the Southern African wildcat (Felis silvestris cafra).

The Scottish Wildcat Association regards the Scottish Wildcat (felis silvestris grampia) as a subspecies of the European wildcat. The wildcat mates with the domestic cat resulting in hybrids.

The European wildcats are thick set with dense fur compared to the lighter bodied Asian wildcats, while the African wildcats are slenderer and longer legged1.

European wildcat appearance

The European wildcat has the appearance of a large wild looking domestic tabby cat. In fact, the mackerel striped tabby European wildcat is considered the “original, non-domesticated ancestor”4 of domestic cats. The genetics behind the mackerel wildcat has been “passed down from primordial wild ancestors”4.

European wildcat meows
European wildcat meows. It has to because it is the wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat. Photo published under a creative commons license on Flickr
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The European wildcat has a thick coat, a broad head and quite a flat face. It is more robust and powerful than the normal domestic cat and the slenderer African Wildcat1; although the African and European wildcats are of a similar size at 3 to 6 kilograms.

The European wildcat is relatively compact. Cat fanciers, breeders of purebred domestic cats, might call it “cobby” and “substantial” using their terminology. The legs are shortish and the tail is usually more than half its head and body length.

European wildcat distribution
European wildcat distribution. Map: MikeB

The ears are wide apart and there are no “lynx tips” (hair at the tip of the ear flap as is classically seen on the caracal). There is a brown shading on the bridge of the nose and either side of it. At least part of the muzzle and all of the chin is white.

The coat is grey/brown with dark strips as can be seen in the photograph, which also shows the crisp “ticking“. The coat is agouti ticked meaning each strand of hair is banded. The underside of the cat is marked by black dots on grey background.

The tail is thick with a pattern of dark rings and a distinct black tip. The tip of the tail of the adult cat is blunt but tapered in the subadult.

The African and Asian wildcats are lighter coloured than the European wildcats1. Hybrid wildcats can be black and are called “Kellas cats” in Scotland; so named after the village where they were first seen.

Related pages: Wildcat Distribution | European Wildcat Habitat and Hunting | Wildcat Threats and Conservation | Scottish Wildcat Sightings  | Scottish Wildcat | Survey

P.S. – 2 other wildcat subspecies

The Scottish subspecies is said to the largest of the wildcats. Males weigh about 6-9 kg or 13-17 lb and females 5-7 kg or 11-15 lb. A male Scottish wildcat was weighed at 7.1 kg3. They are 45 to 80 centimeters in length (18 to 31 inches)1.

European wildcat

The Chinese mountain cat is another subspecies of wildcat. As you can see, they are very similar in appearance.

Chinese Mountain cat
Chinese Mountain cat. Photo: SONG DAZHAO/CFCA

European Wildcat Description – Note:

1. Wild Cats Of The World (WoW) by Mel and Fiona Sunquist – Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 83–98. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. European wildcat description (page 86)

2. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species®

3. Pocock RI 1934 A record wildcat Scottish Naturalist as referred to in WoW.

4. Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Edition.

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