Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

Morphology
Felis silvestris grampia look much like domestic cats, but they are larger and more robust-looking.They have distinctive bushy ringed tails with blunt black tips and thick, heavily marked coats that are fairly dark in colour and striped. Juveniles have more distinctive markings than adults.The adult winter coat is shed in favour of a shorter summer coat during the spring moult in April. The thicker winter coat grows during the autumn moult in September.Other features include:
  • males are typically larger than females
  • the length from the head to the tip of the tail is about 90cm in males, 82cm in females
  • the dorsal stripe on lower back stops at root of tail
  • they have distinct, aligned tail bands
  • the tail tip is blunt and black
  • they have unbroken flank stripes


Evolution
The European form of the wildcat is the oldest wildcat species and is descended from Martelli’s cat (Felis [silvestris] lunensis) about 250,000 years ago (Kurtén 1968). The European wildcat colonised Britain after the end of the last ice age, over 9,000 years ago, when there was still a land bridge to the continent.The cats followed the spread of suitable habitat and prey, and by the time Britain became an island they occurred over its length and breadth.During their millennia of isolation, the British wildcats became a separate subspecies: Felis silvestris grampia.Molecular analysis indicates that the African wildcat diverged from the European form only about 20,000 years ago (Randi and Ragni 1991).The domestic cat derived from African wildcats 4,000–8,000 years ago (Clutton-Brock 1981, Davis 1987, Kitchener 1992).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Introduction

Felis silvestris grampia looks rather like a domestic cat, but is larger and more robust. It is solitary and territorial - territories can be up to 14 square kilometres.The Scottish wildcat is a protected species, but there may be as few as 400 individuals left in the Scottish highlands, where hybridisation with feral cats is common.The wildcats' distinctive tails are bushy and ringed with blunt, black tips. Their coats are thick, dark, striped and heavily marked.The domestic cat was derived from the African wildcat - a close relative of Felis silvestris grampia - 4,000–8,000 years ago.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Biology

Like all small cats, wildcats are solitary and maintain territories, except when they are mating or with kittens (7). In Scotland, although generally active throughout the 24-hour period, most activity occurs between 4 pm and 2 am (7); individuals tend to rest during the day in scrub or young plantations. As with many mammals, in areas undisturbed by humans, wildcats become more active during the day (6). They are adept predators, feeding mainly on rodents, rabbits, hares and to a lesser extent birds (6). They are also known to scavenge rather than hunt, and may stockpile food, particularly during the winter months (6). In Scotland, mating typically occurs in March (7) and a single litter is produced each year, unless the first litter is lost (7). Gestation takes up to 68 days, after which a litter of between 1 and 8 kittens are produced (7) in a den (5). The kittens are born with a full coat; their bright blue eyes open at around 10 days, and become golden yellow at around 5 months of age (5), around the time when the kittens become independent. Sexual maturity is reached at 10-12 months in females and 9-10 months in males. The male may bring food to the den, and may help to rear the kittens, although females have been known to drive males away aggressively when they have kittens (5). The female may help the kittens to develop hunting skills by waving her tail when at rest, causing the kittens to pounce on it (5). Wildcats are known to live to a maximum of 11 years in Scotland (7).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Description

The Scottish subspecies of the European wildcat, Felis silvestris grampia is a stocky cat, and can be distinguished from the domestic cat by its larger size, broader head and blunt, bushy and relatively short tail (5). It is fairly dark in colour with 'tabby' striping, which is more distinctive in juveniles than in adults (5).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comprehensive Description

Although once widespread in Britain, the Wildcat (Felis silvestris), a close relative of the domestic cat, is now found there only in northern Scotland (subspecies Felis silvestris grampia), where it is uncommon. Felis silvestris, however, still has a broad distribution elsewhere in Eurasia and Africa.

Comprehensive information about the Scottish Wildcat (including many images) can be seen at the Highland Tiger website.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Shapiro, Leo

Source: EOL Rapid Response Team

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Biology

Size
  • weight: males 3.8–7.3kg, females 2.4–4.7kg
  • length (head to tail tip): males 82–98cm, females 73–90cm
Life expectancy in the wild is 5–8 years, and in captivity is up to 15 years.

Reproduction
Mating takes place in February to March and the gestation period is about 65 days.Litters of 2–4 kittens (although it can vary from 1–7) are born between April and May in a den amongst rocks or in an abandoned fox earth, badger sett or rabbit warren. Births later in the year are possible if an earlier litter is lost.The mother brings live prey to the den from about 3 weeks, and stops feeding with her milk at around 6–7 weeks.Kittens may follow their hunting mother from 10 weeks old.They start to leave their mothers at about 5 months to find their own home ranges over the winter, but continue growing until they are about 10 months old.Both males and females can breed at 1 year, although males in particular are unlikely to breed until they have established their own home range.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Distribution

Range

In the UK the wildcat is now restricted to Scotland, north of a line drawn between Edinburgh and Glasgow; the current stronghold is northeast Scotland, but the species is uncommon (5). It seems that Scotland's 'industrial belt' is acting as a barrier to the spread of the wildcat to more southerly areas (7). The species was once widespread throughout Britain, and was common until around the end of the 15th century (5). Elsewhere, the species has a fairly broad distribution in Europe (5).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

In general, the European wildcat is associated with forests (6). In Scotland it seems to prefer areas that have a range of different types of habitats, at the borders of moorland and mountains with pasture, scrub and forest present (7).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

General Ecology

Distribution ecology

In the UK the wildcat is now restricted mainly to northeast Scotland.Until 600 years ago it was widespread throughout Britain. Elsewhere in Europe the species Felis silvestris has a broad distribution.

Habitat
Wildcats favour wooded landscapes with a mosaic of habitats especially semi-natural woodland, conifer plantation, scrub, moorland and pastureland.They are usually found below 500m, but have been recorded at over 800m above sea level.

Nutrition
The cats are carnivorous, but eat a wide range of food including:
  • small mammals
  • birds
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • vegetation


Population biology
The most recent population estimate for the Scottish wildcat was published by Harris et al (1995) who estimated 3,500 wildcats in Scotland based on distribution data and extrapolation of radio tracked data.There are various sightings from across Scotland and genetic testing of any dead wildcats helps scientists evaluate the population.Current estimates suggest there may be less than 400 pure bred Scottish wildcats left in the wild.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

Felis silvestris grampia is a solitary and territorial cat.

Home ranges
Males have larger home ranges than females, and may overlap with more than one female. There is little overlap between home ranges of wildcats of the same sex.Home range size varies according to prey availability in the landscape:
  • in the eastern Highlands where rabbits are numerous, male home range size is typically around 4.6km2, with female home range size at around 1.8km2
  • in the western Highlands, where rabbit densities are lower, average male home range size in winter is around 14.3km2, with females at 9km2
The cats are sedentary once a territory has been found, but kittens may travel up to 55km to establish their own territory.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

Conservation

The most serious threat to the Scottish wildcat now comes from feral domestic cats, because:
  • inter-breeding (hybridisation) is reducing the number of pure-bred wildcats - this makes defining a true wildcat extremely difficult
  • diseases such as feline leukaemia virus are spreading and have already been detected in wildcats in Scotland
It is currently legal to control feral cats, and confusion between feral cats, wildcats and hybrids is having a major impact.Habitat alteration and hunting pressure were probably responsible for the original decline of the species in Britain, and this is still true today.Wildcats were treated as vermin by gamekeepers, and the extent of current accidental killing is unclear.Road traffic deaths are also a common cause of mortality in the Scottish wildcat.Since 1988 the wildcat has been a protected species, listed on schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is therefore illegal to kill a wildcat except under license.The wildcat is also a European Protected Species under the Habitats and Species Directive.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Natural History Museum, London

Partner Web Site: Natural History Museum

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Status

The Scottish subspecies Felis silvestris grampia is classified as Vulnerable (VU A1 de+ 2e) by the IUCN Red List 2000 (3). Fully protected in the UK under schedule 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations (1994). The European wildcat is listed under Appendix II of the Bern Convention, Appendix II of CITES and Annex IVa of the EC Habitats Directive (4).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Threats

The status of the wildcat is unclear in Britain; crossbreeding with feral domesticated cats has made defining a true wildcat extremely difficult (7). It is currently legal to control feral cats, and so confusion between feral cats, wildcats and hybrids could have devastating effects (7). Habitat alteration and hunting pressure are thought to be responsible for the original decline in Britain (5). Wildcats were persecuted widely as vermin by gamekeepers, and the extent of current accidental killing is unclear. However, the most serious threat to the species at present appears to come from feral domestic cats, not only through hybridisation, but also from the spread of diseases such as feline leukaemia virus, which has already been detected in wildcats in both Scotland and France (7).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management

Conservation

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to kill or take a wildcat, or to damage or destroy their dens (2). However, it is clear that the confusion surrounding the issue of crossbreeding must be resolved if true Scottish wildcats are to be conserved. Current research is focusing on the issue of crossbreeding between wildcats and feral cats in order to establish the relationship between the two (6). It seems that genetically distinct wildcats do persist in remote parts of western and northern Scotland (6).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Disclaimer

EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!