Fisher cat: dog-like carnivore that’s called a cat and is an omnivore that does not eat fish!

The fisher cat is a dog-like carnivore that’s called a cat and which is an omnivore. Nothing makes sense. Logic has been turned on its head. The problem is that the fisher cat has been badly named and there is a very good argument to reconsider it. Taxonomically, i.e. its scientific classification among all the other animals, is as a carnivore which means a meat eater. Although they are omnivores in practice. They will happily hunt a wide range of animals such as porcupines but they normally forage around fallen trees looking for fruits, nuts, insects and mushrooms.

Fisher cat
Fisher cat. Photo in public domain.
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Taxonomically, they are classified under ‘Caniformia’. These are dog-like animals. So, the fisher cat is a dog-like animal that eats fruit! Pretty well the opposite to what the cat is and does.

The big question, then, is why the human race decided to call this animal a ‘fisher cat’. And it should not be capitalised as both words are not proper nouns.

You have to go back quite a long way into history to figure that one out and it is probably the reason why it’s been badly named. The answer is slightly obscured in the mists of time too. Back in the day animals were classified by their appearance and not by DNA and the fisher cat was thought to have a cat-like appearance, at least to the people who named the cat! The trouble is that the fisher cat more closely resembles the American marten and not a cat. Strange.

In fact, Native American names for the fisher are ‘Chipewyan thacho’ and ‘Carrier chunihcho’, both meaning “big marten”. It seems that Native Americans were more accurate than the person who named it who appears to be Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) who never travelled from Wales, UK

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We are unsure how the name originates and the topic is muddy. It is likely to be from the French term ‘fishe’ describing the European polecat or its pelts. The word “fisher” is a derivative of ‘fisse’, the Dutch equivalent of the word ‘fitch’ from early settlers in America. As is not uncommon, words can become distorted in usage particularly perhaps when foreign languages or foreign people are involved. I think this is at least part of the problem. Although Pennant, who was Welsh, strangely called the animal a ‘fisher’. That was a key moment is making a mess of naming this animal.

The early European settlers likened the fisher cat to the European polecat which was called a ‘fitche’. So, there is the word “cat” within the creation of this name i.e. the polecat. It seems, then, that the word ‘cat’ in the name of the fisher cat comes from a reference to the polecat but not a reference to the fact that the fisher cat looks like a cat! It does not. It looks more like a marten or weasel which is unsurprising since they are a member of the weasel family πŸ˜‰.

Returning to fish; they don’t fish to catch fish but they mightJaguarundi in captivity Jaguarundi in captivity. Photo: as per image.[/caption]

There is a resemblance to the fisher cat.

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