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 photograph below is of the Scottish wildcat but is it a hybrid? 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 more slender and longer legged1…continues below the photograph.
…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.
The Scottish subspecies is said to the 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.
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 more slender 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 it head and body length.
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 shadding 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.
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.