The question in this neat, short video from the Reddit/Imgur website is whether all Pallas’s cats (‘Manul’) keep their forepaws warm by placing their tail under them when they are sitting on snow. It looks like a very deliberate, automatic act. My thought is that this happens all the time for Pallas’s cats because they live in the Central Asian uplands. This cat species can be found at elevations of 3,000-4,000 metres (the upper limit is over 13,000 feet). In Ladakh, it is found in hilly terrain above the tree line from 3,600 metres to 4,800 metres (almost 16,000 feet at the upper limit).
The behaviour highlights the sensitivity of the feline paw pads and the thickly protective fur of this wild cat.
In Central Asia where this cat can be found the winter air temperature is often -50 degrees Celsius with light snowfall. The super coat protects against these harsh conditions. This cat species has a limit to the amount if snow it can tolerate in terms of movement as it is quite small. They can’t negotiate deep, loose snow. “Continuous snow cover of 15 to 20 centimeters marks the ecological limit for this species” (Wild Cats of the World).
Back in the 19th century “shepherds and Kirgizians would chase manuls through snow or follow their tracks to a den upon which they would kill the cats with sticks or stone them to death.” (Heptner and Sludskii 1992).
Unpleasant to think about but it highlights the sort of landscape on which this small cat species lives. Evolutionary pressures would have encouraged the Pallas’s cat to place their forefeet on their tails for comfort.
It makes me wonder if any small cat species including the domestic does this from time to time if the ground is so cold as to make it uncomfortable for sensitive cat paws. Cat paws contain a large concentration of nerve receptors. They are ‘sensory organs’ aiding in hunting and movement and helping in balance. They feel with their paws.
It is unsurprising then that they feel the cold ground when it is covered in icy snow. It makes sense to place a ‘mat’ under them.
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