Before mating begins, chemical signals in the female’s urine attract and notify the male of her readiness to mate. A distinctive “cough-like” mating call has also been reported as a method of attraction. There have been several different forms of mating systems observed for caracals. When a female is being courted by multiple males, the group may fight to mate with her or she may choose her mates, preferring older and larger males to younger and smaller males. Mating may occur with multiple individuals over the course of about a week. When a female chooses a mate, the pair may move together for up to four days, during which copulation occurs multiple times. Female caracals assume a lordotic position and copulation lasts for less than five minutes on average. Females almost always copulate with more than one male. Infanticide by males has been observed. This may be to induce ovulation in a female undergoing lactational amenorrhea.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Although both sexes are sexually mature at 7 to 10 months, the earliest successful copulation will occur around 14 to 15 months of age. Some biologists believe that sexual maturity is indicated by a body mass of 7 to 9 kg. Females exhibit estrous behaviors for 3 to 6 days but the cycle actually lasts twice as long. A female may go into estrus at any time during the year. One hypothesis to explain the breeding habits of C. caracal is the “use” of an opportunistic strategy. This strategy is controlled by the female’s nutritional status. When a female is experiencing pinnacle nutrition (which will vary by range), she will go into estrus. This explains peak birth timing between October and February in some regions. A female cannot have more than one litter per year because of the parental investment involved and the lack of post partum estrus. Gestation lasts between 68 and 81 days, and the female will give birth to 1 to as many as 6 kittens. In the wild, generally no more than 3 kits are born, while in captivity, the number is more likely to be higher, rarely as many as 6.
Breeding interval: Caracals breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Caracals are capable of mating at any time of the year, but often do between August and December so that young are born in the summer.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Range gestation period: 68 to 81 days.
Range birth mass: 198 to 250 g.
Range weaning age: 4 to 6 months.
Range time to independence: 9 to 10 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 7 to 10 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 7 to 10 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous
Average number of offspring: 3.
Parental investment in caracals plays a large role in greater reproductive behavior. The time a mother spends with her kits (and the combined lack of post partum estrus) restricts females to one litter per year. Once the young are conceived, males play no role in their direct or indirect care. Females invest a great deal of time and energy into their young. A tree cavity, cave, or abandoned burrow is often chosen for parturition and the first four weeks of postnatal development. After the first month, a mother may move her young continuously. Around this time, kittens begin to play and eat meat. Nursing continues until the kittens are around 15 weeks of age, but true independence does not take place for another 5 to 6 months.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- Bernard, R., C. Stuart. 1987. Reproduction of the caracal Felis caracal from the Cape Province of South Africa. South African Journal of Zoology, 22/3: 177-182.
- Kingdon, J. 2004. The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals. Italy: Princeton University Press.
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.