Lineages & Species of Wild Cats (Photos & Facts)

The Felidae family contains 40 species of wild cat and one additional species: the much-loved domesticated cat. The classification of wild cats is not only an interesting topic thanks to their wide variety of physical characteristics but is also one of the easiest stories of evolution to follow in the animal kingdom. The oldest split between all remaining extant species of cat occurred more than 10 million years ago when Pantherinae—containing the “Big 5” cats—split from Felinae—containing the rest of the felids. The Felinae subfamily then continued to diverge until around 1-3 million years ago, producing, among others, the Caracal, Ocelot, Lynx, Puma & Domestic Cat lineages. In this guide, we’ll explore each split in the Felidae family and the lineages and species these evolutionary divergences produced.

Contents

  • Panthera Lineage (inc. The Big Five: Lions, Tigers & Jaguars)
  • Bay Cat Lineage (inc. Asian Golden Cat & Marbled Cat)
  • Caracal Lineage (inc. African Golden Cat & Serval)
  • Ocelot Lineage (inc. Oncilla & Margay)
  • Lynx Lineage (inc. Eurasian Lynx & Bobcat)
  • Puma Lineage (inc. Cougar & Cheetah)
  • Leopard Cat Lineage (inc. Pallas’s Cat & Leopard Cat)
  • Domestic Cat Lineage (inc. Chinese Mountain Cat & European Wildcat)

Panthera Lineage > Panthera & Neofelis Genera > 7 Species

Once upon a time, the earth was roamed by gigantic sabre-tooth tigers. Unfortunately, the last of this no-doubt spectacular subfamily of cats were driven to extinction around 10,000 years ago leaving behind the remaining extant members of the cat family with the Panthera Lineage—technically known as Pantherinae—containing the largest and most terrifying cats! This subfamily contains two genera: Panthera and Neofelis. Panthera is by far the most famous of all feline genera, holding the “big 5”: tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and the elusive snow leopard. Neofelis contains two species, both of which are variations of the clouded leopard and are significantly smaller than their distant Pantherinian cousins.

Jaguar walking on a river bank in the Pantanal, Brazil

Tiger

The tiger is the largest cat on the planet, measuring up to 3.9m/13ft in length and weighing up to 300kg/660lbs. Yikes! This species is split into 6 subspecies including the Bengal, Malayan and Siberian tiger with an additional 3 subspecies driven to extinction including the Javan and Caspian tiger. They are unique in their appearance, exhibiting an orange coat with black stripes & a white underbelly, tail and facial highlights.

Female Royal Bengal tiger with cubs

Both black and white tigers have been known to occur from pseudo-melanism and albinism respectively (we’ll talk more about melanism later). They are found mainly in the forests of south and east Asia, with a small population—the aforementioned Siberian tiger—inhabiting the mountain ranges of far-eastern Russia and northern China. Unfortunately, tigers are currently endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction but a healthy population does reside in India where they are protected.

Tiger Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Massive! The only cat with bright orange fur
  • Max size – 3.9m/13ft in length (including tail) and 300kg/660lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 8-10 years
  • Activity pattern – Active in the day but usually hunts by night
  • Social behaviour – Solitary with a large territorial range
  • Habitat – Many different kinds of forest & grassland
  • Range – South, east and southeast Asia & far eastern Russia/China
  • Prey – Deer, wild cattle & pigs (will eat other cats and bears too)
  • Threats/Predators – Humans & occasionally bears
  • Conservation status – Endangered (3000 – 4000 remain)

Snow Leopard

The smallest of the Panthera genus, it makes sense to assume that snow leopards diverged from regular leopards to create a super snow-specializing species! But recent studies have shown that they diverged from tigers and that lions are actually more closely related to leopards. These famously elusive creatures are found on the Tibetan Plateau—the highest mountain range on earth—and regions further north in Mongolia and Siberia.

Snow Leopard hunting in the Himalayas
Snow Leopard hunting in the Himalayas

Snow leopards vary the altitude at which they live depending on the season, retreating to higher elevations in the summer where the temperature remains cool. Their thick white/grey black-spotted fur helps keep them warm in their snowy habitat and provides much-needed camouflage when hunting. There are currently no known subspecies of the snow leopard presumably because of its limited range.

Snow Leopard Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Thick soft white/grey/black coat
  • Max size – 2.1m/7ft in length (including tail) and 75kg/165lbs
  • Activity pattern – Active mostly during the morning & evening
  • Social behaviour – Solitary but will hunt as a mating pair
  • Habitat – High-altitude mountainous regions
  • Range – The mountain ranges of Central Asia
  • Prey – Mountain sheep, deer, goats & smaller mammals such as marmots
  • Threats/Predators – Humans & occasionally wolves
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable (2,500 – 10,000 remain)

Lion

Lions once roamed the forests of southern Europe and the Middle East but are now restricted to sub-Saharan Africa and a very small population in India. Unlike other cats who live a solitary existence, lions are pack animals and congregate in prides, which is advantageous for taking down larger prey. Lions also have a unique appearance being the only cat to sport a mane; Charles Darwin postulated that the mane of a male lion developed through natural selection as a means of protection while fighting other males as well as an intimidation tactic.

Two male lions in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Two male lions in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

The mane of a male lion has also been shown to be a factor for females when choosing a mate with darker and thicker manes being the most popular hairstyle. Being a plain yellowish-brown colour, the lion’s coat is the least decorated of all the big cats, however, they do have a fancy black tuft on the end of their tail which no other feline has! The white lion is a rare colour variation caused by a genetic condition called leucism, which results in a loss of pigmentation.

Lion Facts

  • Defining characteristics – A tuft at the end of their tail and males have a mane
  • Max size – 3m/12ft (including tail) & 250kg/550lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 15 years
  • Activity pattern – Spend up to 20 hours a day relaxing! Most active at night/dawn
  • Social behaviour – The most social of all cats, hang out in prides of up to 30 lions
  • Habitat – Grasslands & savannas 
  • Range – Sub-Saharan Africa & a small population in India
  • Prey – Wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, deer (pretty much anything!)
  • Threats/Predators – Humans, crocs, hyenas (some herd animals for self-preservation)
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable (roughly 20,000 left)

Leopard

In Africa, Leopards occupy a similar territory to lions but they are also found throughout much of Asia as well. Male leopards can weigh up to 90kg/200lbs and although they are significantly smaller than both lions and tigers, they are famously agile and can hunt while leaping from tree to tree (which, let’s face it, is even more terrifying!). The pattern of their fur is similar to that of a jaguar but their black rosettes tend to be smaller and less intricate.

Young leopard chilling in a tree
Young leopard chilling in a tree!

One of the most famous colour variations is the black panther, which is not a separate species; excessive production of Melanin causes the black pigmentation of fur and although there are black panthers in Africa the most common occurrence of this variant is found on the Malay Peninsula. There are 27 subspecies of leopard making it one of the most geographically and visually varied felines; some subspecies such as the Indian leopard are noticeably more orange than their African counterparts.

Leopard Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Black rosettes, generally with no inner spots
  • Max size – 3m/12ft (including tail) & 90kg/200lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 10-12 years
  • Activity pattern – Hunts at night but can vary between season, habitat and prey
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial but ranges can overlap
  • Habitat – Varied; forest, savannah, grassland, woodland
  • Range – Sub-saharan Africa & central/east Asia
  • Prey – Antelope, deer, warthogs (small to medium-sized mammals)
  • Threats/Predators – Larger cats, hyenas, wolves, bears & humans
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable (unknown but likely less than 100,000)

Jaguar

Jaguars are commonly mistaken for Leopards due to their visually similar fur pattern, however, there are several distinct differences between the two species. Unlike the African/Asian dwelling Leopard, Jaguars are found throughout Central and South America and these aquatically inclined felines can be up to twice the size—males can weigh just under 160kg/350lbs!

A particularly grumpy looking male jaguar in the Brazilian Amazon

Their fur pattern also differs slightly with spots inside each black rosette and they can also be subject to Melanism, producing entirely back Jaguars—this also leads to the confusion between species. They have adapted to living in the wet rainforests and wetlands of South America including and especially the Amazon rainforest. This has made Jaguars excellent swimmers; they consume more reptiles than any other cat, using their powerful bite and large canines to prey on turtles and caiman. Jaguars are a monotypic species meaning that there are no currently defined subspecies.

Jaguar Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Spots on the inside of their rosettes (some appear grumpy!)
  • Max size – 2.7m/9ft (including tail) & 160kg/350lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 11-12 years
  • Activity pattern – Hunt mainly at night but also active during the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial
  • Habitat – All kinds of forests and wetlands/grasslands
  • Range – Central and South America
  • Prey – Deer, capybara, birds, fish, turtles, caiman & livestock
  • Threats/Predators – Humans (pretty much just us, sadly)
  • Conservation status – Near Threatened (64,000 remain)

Clouded Leopard

The first of two species contained in the Neofelis genus, the clouded leopard is significantly smaller—males can weigh up to around 23kg/50lbs—and are found throughout much of east and southeast Asia. Their fur pattern reminds me a little bit of a python, with its dark brown-green fur camouflaged with a large black-spotted pattern. Melanism can occur in clouded leopards although it is rare. They are solitary animals who are arboreal—living mostly in the trees—and hunt at night due to overlapping ranges with tigers and leopards.

Clouded Leopard Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Unique large black markings
  • Max size – 2m/6ft (including tail) & 23kg/50lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 11 years
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal & arboreal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Woodlands & forests
  • Range – East and Southeast Asia
  • Prey – Monkeys, deer, squirrels, birds 
  • Threats/Predators – Larger cats & humans
  • Conservation Status – Vulnerable (less and 10,000 remain)

Sunda Clouded Leopard

This distinct species of cat diverged from the clouded leopard around 1-2 million years ago and is found exclusively on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Visually it is very similar to the clouded leopard except for a slightly darker fur. One of the largest recorded populations of the Sunda clouded leopard is in Sabah—a northern state of Borneo—which is also home to orangutans, the Asiatic black bear and the bay cat.

Sunda Clouded Leopard | WikiCommons: Tomer T

Sunda Clouded Leopard Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Slightly darker and larger than the regular clouded leopard
  • Max size – 2m/6ft (including tail) & 30kg/66lbs
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal & arboreal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Primarily forests
  • Range – Borneo & Sumatra
  • Prey – Deer, palm civet, monkeys, squirrels, birds 
  • Threats/Predators – Larger cats & humans
  • Conservation Status – Vulnerable

Bay Cat Lineage | Catopuma & Pardofelis Genera | 3 Species

Catopuma & Pardofelis were the first genera to diverge from the felinae subfamily and split from each other around 9.4 million years ago. This lineage has a very similar range to the clouded leopard—occupying the forests of east and southeast Asia—and contains only three distinct species. Both the Asian golden cat and the marbled cat are similar in appearance to some of their feline relatives but the bay cat is one of the most unique felines I have come across.

Bay Cat

This rather odd looking cat (I’m sorry but it is!) exhibits a long bushy tail and either grey or a vibrant chestnut coat—the most common variant. They are endemic to Borneo and are listed as endangered with only around 2,500 left in the wild. With such a small sample size it is difficult to determine an accurate estimation of their weight and size but experts say this species weighs no more than 4kg/9lbs and can grow up to around 50-65cm/19.5-26.4in in length.

A bay cat in captivity | Flickr: Oregon State University

Bay Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Chestnut-coloured coat
  • Max size – 1m/3ft (including tail) & 4kg/9lbs
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal
  • Habitat – Forests
  • Range – Borneo
  • Threats/Predators – Humans (deforestation and poaching)
  • Conservation status – Endangered (2,500 remain)

Asian Golden Cat

This particularly beautiful cat is another feline found throughout south, east and southeast Asia. They have been observed with a variety of fur colours with some exhibiting a lighter reddish coat and others with a darker brownish coat. Asian Golden Cats are adept at climbing trees in the forests they inhabit and have been shown to be a mixture of diurnal and crepuscular—active during twilight—hunting mostly small mammals and birds.

Asian golden cat
Asian Golden Cat | Flickr: Tambako The Jaguar

Asian Golden Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Reddish coat with beautiful marbled face
  • Max size – 1.6m/5ft (including tail) & 16kg 35lbs
  • Activity pattern – Diurnal and crepuscular
  • Social behaviour – Solitary & territorial
  • Habitat – Different types of forest
  • Range – East and southeast Asia
  • Prey – Rodents, birds, reptiles and small deer
  • Threats/Predators – Humans
  • Conservation status – Near Threatened

Marbled Cat

The smallest member of the bay cat lineage, the marbled cat has more or less the same range and has a very similar colouring to a clouded leopard; the main fur colour has a browny-green hue camouflaged with a black-spotted pattern. They are thought to be semi-arboreal and roughly the same size as a domesticated cat.

Marbled Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – A mini clouded leopard!
  • Max size – 1.2m/4ft (including 55cm tail) & 5kg/11lbs
  • Activity pattern – Active during the day but will hunt at night too
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Different types of forest
  • Range – South and southeast Asia
  • Prey – Birds, squirrels, rats, mice, bats
  • Threats/Predators – Humans
  • Conservation status – Near Threatened (around 10,000 remain)

Caracal Lineage | Caracal & Leptailurus Genera | 3 Species

The caracal lineage were the next group of felids to diverge from the main pack—somewhere around 5.4 million years ago—and are mainly found in Africa, although the Caracal has a range as far west as India. The caracal lineage contains two genera, Leptailurus contains a single species, the serval, while the caracal genus is split between the caracal and the African golden cat.

Caracal

The caracal is the only species from this lineage to be found in Asia, with a range extending as far east as India and as far north as Turkmenistan. In my opinion, the caracal is similar in appearance to a cougar with a reddish-brown fur and no camouflaging. They also exhibit tufts of hair on the tops of their ears; they have been observed using them to communicate by bobbing their heads from side to side (try picturing that!).

Beautiful Caracal
Beautiful caracal displaying long turfs of hair from the tips of its ears

They are famously agile and have been known to perform impressive gymnastic-like stunts while catching birds in mid flight. The caracal is also known as the Desert Lynx or Persian Lynx and can be found throughout much of the Middle East.

Caracal Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Mini cougar with black tufts on ears
  • Max size – 1.4m/4ft (including tail) & 19kg/42lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 12 years
  • Activity pattern – Mostly nocturnal but also active during the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial
  • Habitat – Forests, savannah & semi-desert
  • Range – Africa, the Middle East & south Asia
  • Prey – Small mammals, birds and rodents
  • Threats/Predators – Larger cats, hyenas & humans
  • Conservation status – Least Concern (finally!)

African Golden Cat

The other member of the caracal genus is the African golden cat. As the name suggests, these felines are found solely in Africa and, when compared to other cat species, occupy quite a small range in the rainforests of central and west Africa. They are mostly golden in colour (unsurprisingly!) although some have been observed with a grey coat and spotted markings are present on some—but not all—of these cats on the underside of their belly and the backs of their legs. They hunt mostly on the ground but are good hunters and have been known to climb a tree or two to snatch a monkey or a bird!

African Golden Cat
An African Golden Cat caught by a camera trap in Gabon | Flickr: Panthera Cats

African Golden Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Golden coat with spots on the belly
  • Max size – 1.5m/4ft (including 46cm tail) & 16kg/35lbs
  • Activity pattern – Mostly nocturnal or crepuscular
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Mainly tropical forests
  • Range – Equatorial Africa
  • Prey – Smaller mammals such as antelope and monkeys, birds and fish
  • Threats/Predators – Leopards
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable

Serval

Servals have a particularly unique appearance; they look like a cross between a cheetah and a maned wolf (I’m sorry for these weird analogies, I’ll provide photos, you’ll see what I mean!). They have light yellowish fur with black spots and stripes and have a particularly short tail and large ears. These slender animals—who have the longest legs of all cats relative to body size—are no more than 100cm/39in in length and weigh up to 18kg/40lbs. A small population exists in Morocco but these cats live mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa where they prey on rodents, birds, reptiles in addition to eating grass to aid with digestion.

Serval a cross between a maned wolf and a cheetah
See! A serval is basically a cross between a maned wolf and a cheetah!

Serval Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Mini cheetah with large stripy ears
  • Max size – 1.3m/4ft (including 30cm tail) & 18kg/40lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 10 years
  • Activity pattern – Hunt in early morning/late afternoon (occasionally at night)
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial
  • Habitat – Savanna, wetlands, grasslands and forests
  • Range – Most of sub-Saharan Africa
  • Prey – Rodents, birds, reptiles and insects
  • Threats/Predators – Humans and occasionally leopards and hyenas
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Ocelot Lineage | Leopardus Genus | 8 Species

The ocelot lineage contains only one genus, Leopardus and is one of the most diverse lineages, containing 8 species of cat, all living in Central & South America. With the exception of the Pampas cat, whose markings are much less pronounced, the cats in this genus have similar markings to a jaguar with black rosettes atop a light-brown and white fur. With the exception of the ocelot, all of these cats are thought of as “small” cats, weighing no more than around 4kg/9lbs.

Ocelot

This is by far my favourite cat in this lineage, its markings are made up of clear and distinct black spots and streaks atop a yellowish brown and white body. Weighing up to 15.5kg/34lbs, its size, the shape of its head and its poise are more similar to that of a jaguar—although its colour/markings are not the same.

Ocelot on tree branch
Ocelot with beautiful markings

Interestingly, the word “ocelot” derives from a Uto-Aztec language called Nahuatl, which means Jaguar, possibly named so due to its similarity in appearance. The ocelot has a large range from the mountain ranges of eastern Mexico all the way down to the rainforests of Brazil, thankfully, their conservation status is set to least concern.

Ocelot Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Stubby muzzle and beautiful markings
  • Max size – 1.5m/4.5ft (including 45cm tail) & 15.5kg/34lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 7 to 10 years
  • Activity pattern – Mostly nocturnal or crepuscular
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial
  • Habitat – Forests, savanna and mangrove swamps
  • Range – Central and South America
  • Prey – Small mammals, rodents, fish, insects and small birds
  • Threats/Predators – Harpy eagles, larger cats and anacondas 
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Margay

Margays are much smaller than ocelots but are often confused for this species. They too have a combination of black spots and streaks atop a light brown fur but their size and appearance is much more similar to that of a domestic cat than that of a large jaguar. These famously agile cats—often referred to as tree ocelots—can leap from tree to tree where they chase monkeys, birds and small reptiles. The margay has a very similar range to the ocelot with the exception of far western Peru.

Female margay with kitten
Female margay with kitten

Margay Facts

  • Defining characteristics – A miniature ocelot!
  • Max size – 1.3m/4ft (including 50cm/20in tail) & 4kg/8.8lbs
  • Activity pattern – Active during both day and night
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Tropical evergreen & dry forest and cloud forest
  • Range – Central and South America
  • Prey – Small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fruit
  • Conservation status – Near Threatened

Oncilla (Northern Tiger Cat/Southern Tiger Cat)

The oncilla is another species often confused for the margay or the ocelot thanks to its similar markings. If the margay was a mini ocelot, the oncilla would be a mini margay! Weighing up to around 3kg/6.6lbs, this species also spends a lot of time in the trees hunting for small rodents, birds and other small animals. Its range is mostly restricted to the Amazon basin but there is also a small population in Central America. It was discovered in 2013 that there were in fact two populations of oncilla who didn’t interbreed, creating two separate species named the Northern & Southern Tiger Cat.

Oncilla Facts

  • Defining characteristics – A miniature margay!
  • Max size – 1.2m/3.6ft (including 35cm tail) & 3kg/6.6lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 11 years
  • Activity pattern – Mainly nocturnal but do hunt in the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Different forest ecosystems
  • Range – Central and South America
  • Prey – Small mammals, birds, frogs, lizards
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable

Geoffroy’s Cat

Roughly the same size as a Margay, the Geoffroy’s cat is found only in southern South America and is named in honor of the French zoologist, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire who died the same year this species was discovered. It has been known to live at altitudes of up to 3,800 meters in the Andes and is particularly prevalent in Bolivia where it is outnumbered only by the ocelot. Interestingly there is also a Melanistic version (a mini black panther!) but I was unable to find a photo of this variation.

Geoffroy’s cat | Flickr: Arjan Haverkamp

Geoffroy’s cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Similar to a domestic cat but with big cat markings
  • Max size – 90cm/3ft (including 30cm/12in tail) & 7.8kg/17lbs
  • Activity pattern – Mostly nocturnal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Grasslands, savannahs, wetlands & forests
  • Range – Southern South America
  • Prey – Rodents, hares, lizards, insects, frogs and fish
  • Threats/Predators – Larger cats, foxes, birds of prey & humans
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Kodkod

The Kodkod is the closest relative to the Geoffroy’s cat and is kind of like its smaller, fluffier cousin! In fact, the Kodkod is the smallest feline in the Americas weighing up to around 3kg/6.6lbs. It lives in a range of forest biomes including rainforests and deciduous temperate forests and is only found on the far western side of the continent in Chile and Argentina. They are also excellent at climbing trees and won’t venture past the treeline into the alpine.

Kodkod cat
Kodkod cat | Flickr: Darwin Initiative

Kodkod Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Similar to a Geoffroy’s Cat but fluffier tail
  • Max size – 75cm/30in (including 25cm/10in tail) & 2.5kg/5.5lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 11 years
  • Activity pattern – Can be both nocturnal and diurnal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Temperate rainforests
  • Range – Chile and north-western Argentina
  • Prey – Rodents, reptiles, birds and insects
  • Threats/Predators – Humans and domestic dogs
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable (less than 10,000 remain)

Andean Mountain Cat

I like to think of the Andean mountain cat as a miniature snow leopard! Another small cat, roughly the same size as a Geoffroy’s Cat or a Margay, this alpine-loving feline is found in the Andes Mountain Range in South America and has a much thicker coat than the margay, ocelot or oncilla, which allows it to live exclusively at high elevation along with the Pampas Cat and the Puma. Unfortunately, the Andean Mountain Cat is classified as endangered and is the most threatened of all the felines in the Americas. They prey almost entirely on mountain viscacha— rodents with a similar appearance to rabbits.

Andean Mountain Cat
Andean Mountain Cat (mini snow leopard!) | WikiCommons: Jim Sanderson

Andean Mountain Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – A cross between a domestic cat and a snow leopard!
  • Max size – 1.3m/4.5ft (including 1.5ft tail) & 5.5kg/12lbs
  • Activity pattern – Primarily nocturnal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – High-elevation, mountainous terrain
  • Range – Andes Mountain Range
  • Prey – Almost entirely mountain viscacha (a rodent)
  • Threats/Predators – Poached by humans for their fur
  • Conservation status – Endangered

Pampas Cat

The Pampas Cat is named after the Pampas lowlands, an area of fertile plains in far southern Brazil and eastern Argentina. However, this species occupies a far wider range than the boundaries of the Pampas from the high alpine in the Andes to the surrounding woodland, swampland and the savannah. This cat has been notoriously hard to categorise with five to seven subspecies and many different variations of fur. They have a very similar diet to the Andean Mountain cat but a little more varied.

Pampas Cat in Chile
Pampas Cat in Chile | Flickr: Márcio Motta

Pampas Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Wildly varied fur with a bushy tail
  • Max size – 1m/3ft (including 30cm tail) & 4kg
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 9 years
  • Activity pattern – Both diurnal and nocturnal depending on location
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Grassland, forests, mountainous terrain and shrubland
  • Range – Western South America 
  • Prey – Mountain viscachas, rodents, guinea pigs and small birds
  • Threats/Predators – Dogs and larger cats 
  • Conservation status – Near Threatened

Lynx Lineage | Lynx Genus | 4 Species

The lynx lineage is one of my favourite cat genera, these beautiful creatures have short tails and shaggy fur and are well-adapted to their typically snowy and/or mountainous environment. The lynx genus is made up for four species, each of which are quite distinct from one another both visually and in terms of habitat with only a small amount of crossover between the Canada Lynx and Bobcat around the Canada/USA border. It is not uncommon to see groups of lynx hunting together although these animals are thought of as solitary animals. Similar to the caracal, all species of lynx also have tufts of hair on the ends of their ears.

Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian lynx is the largest of the four species and by some considerable margin; males can weigh up to around 36kg/80lbs compared to the Canada lynx and Bobcat which tie for second at around 15kg/33lbs. Their distribution is vast; they roam as far south as the Tibetan Plateau, as far west as Norway and Germany and as far east as Siberia. They live mainly in temperate and boreal forests and feast mainly on small mammals such as hares, rabbits, young deer, foxes and bore. Thankfully, they are not threatened at the time of writing.

Eurasian Lynx Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Red or brown coat with stubby tail and tufts on ears
  • Max size – 1.6m/5ft (including 25cm tail) & 36kg/80lbs
  • Activity pattern – Active during the early morning/late evening
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Temperate and boreal forests
  • Range – Mountainous regions of northern/eastern Europe and northern Asia
  • Prey – Ungulates; deer, chamois, foxes, rabbits, hares & rodents
  • Threats/Predators – Occasionally run into tigers, wolves and wolverines
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Iberian Lynx

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the distant cousin of the Eurasian lynx; the Iberian Lynx is one of the most threatened members of the cat family. This species is endemic to the Iberian peninsula and up until 2002 was on the verge of extinction. However, thanks to conservation effects, the population has risen from 94 to 855 in 2020 and their future is looking much brighter. Interestingly, the Iberian peninsula is also home to a critically endangered species of bear—the Cantabrian brown bear—and thankfully the Spanish government seems to be taking conservation seriously and there are reintroduction and protection programs in place for both species.

Female Iberian Lynx
Female Iberian Lynx | Flickr: Frank Vassen

Iberian Lynx Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Similar to the Eurasian Lynx but smaller
  • Max size – 1m/3ft (including 16cm tail) & 16kg/35lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 13 years
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal/crepuscular
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Mountainous terrain
  • Range – Only a very small range in southern Spain
  • Prey – Almost entirely the European rabbit
  • Conservation status – Endangered (855 remain)

Canada Lynx

The Canada Lynx mainly occupies the boreal forests of Canada, Alaska and some of the northern states of the contiguous US. In terms of its evolutionary path, it is one divergence removed from the Eurasian and Iberian lynx, which makes sense due to their difference in habitat. They are typically very similar in colour to their European counterparts but have been known to also exhibit a blue/grey fur instead.

Canadian Lynx standing on a rock in a birch forest in Autumn at sunrise
Canadian Lynx in birch forest at sunrise

The Canada lynx feeds almost exclusively on the snowshoe hare and has developed long hind legs and huge paws which help it hunt in the snow. Consequently, areas with large populations of snowshoe hares like the Yukon will be your best bet to spot one in the wild.

Canada Lynx Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Often more greyish in colour with a brown tinge
  • Max size – 1.2m/3.8ft (including 13cm tail) & 17kg/37lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 14 years
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal/crepuscular but does hunt in the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Boreal forests
  • Range – Canada, Alaska and small parts of the contiguous US
  • Prey – Almost entirely the snowshoe hare
  • Threats/Predators – Wolves and bears will eat kittens
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Bobcat

Bobcats occupy the southernmost range of all lynx species with their habitat stretching as far south as Mexico. They are also the smallest species of the lynx genus with males weighing no more than around 15kg/33lbs. Their coat also varies from a reddish-brown to grey with darker spots and streaks distributed throughout the coat for camouflage. Much like its northern cousin, the bobcat survives largely on rabbits and hares but is also known to hunt larger prey such as small deer. Bobcats venture as far south as Mexico and as far north as Canada, often overlapping territory with the Canada Lynx.

Bobcat on porch in New Mexico
Bobcat on porch in New Mexico | Flickr: John Fowler

Bobcat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Tan/grey with spots and looks like it’s wearing eyeliner!
  • Max size – 1.4m/4.5ft (including 20cm tail) & 15kg/33lb
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 12 years
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal but can be active in the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary and territorial
  • Habitat – Woodlands, forests, mountainous terrain
  • Range – Contiguous US, Southern Canada & Mexico
  • Prey – Rodents, rabbits, deer, birds and reptiles
  • Threats/Predators – Coyotes & domestic dogs (owls will swipe kittens)
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Puma Lineage | Puma, Herpailurus & Acinonyx Genera | 3 Species

The puma lineage is one of the most interesting for its variation of physical characteristics. Unlike the lynx lineage for example, where all species are very similar, the Jaguarundi, Cougar & Cheetah are all very different cats. Physically, the Jaguarundi is more akin to a large weasel! The Cougar is also relatively short and stocky, especially in comparison to the cheetah, which is long and slender and the fastest animal on earth. Honestly, out of all of the feline lineages, this is the most confusing to me!

Cougar

The cougar is one of the most famous of the cat species, it is well known in North American pop culture for being the largest cat species in the USA and Canada—second only to the Jaguar in the Americas. In fact, the cougar is actually the fourth largest cat in the world but is not part of the “big 5”, which as we know, are contained in the Panthera genus.

Adult cougar in winter
Adult cougar in the winter

It has a gigantic range from northern Canada all the way down to southern Argentina and Brazil. Physically, the cougar is a stocky and powerful animal capable of taking down large mammals such as deer. Cougars occupy an awkward position in the food chain; they have the power to kill coyotes and wolves and as such their cubs are often preyed upon by these animals for self preservation. Cougars exhibit a reddish-brown fur without any camouflaging.

Cougar Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Reddish-brown coat with slender powerful build
  • Max size – 2.75m/9ft (including tail) & 95kg/211lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 18-20 years
  • Activity pattern – Primarily nocturnal
  • Social behaviour – Solitary but not uncommon to see in small groups
  • Habitat – All types of forest, desserts and mountainous terrain
  • Range – Occupies most of the Americas from Canada to Argentina
  • Prey – Deer, caribou, elk, rabbits, birds, coyotes…
  • Threats/Predators – Wolves, bears and others will prey on cubs
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Jaguarundi

The jaguarundi occupies a similar range to the cougar up to the Mexican/US border where it extends no further. Their fur can either be a deep reddish-brown or a dark grey. Weighing a maximum 7kg/15.5lbs, jaguarundis are much smaller than a cougars and would probably fit somewhere between a margay and an ocelot. It has short legs and a long body and tail, hence my previous comparison to weasels! Although they have been known to climb, they hunt mainly on the ground and are also known to be good swimmers. Thankfully, this loveable feline’s conservation status is also listed as of least concern.

Dark-coated Jaguarundi
Dark-coated Jaguarundi

Jaguarundi Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Looks like a large weasel!
  • Max size – 1.4m/3ft (including 60cm tail) & 7kg/15.5lbs
  • Activity pattern – Diurnal, hunting during the day and evening
  • Social behaviour – Solitary but have been known to form pairs
  • Habitat – Different types of forest, shrubland and desert
  • Range – Central and South America
  • Prey – Small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish etc..
  • Threats/Predators – Cougars, large snakes, domestic dogs
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Cheetah

The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world with recorded speeds of up to 71mph/114kph. Cheetahs are split into four subspecies, three of which are found in Africa and the remaining Asian population is located in Iran. While these cats have long limbs to help propel them in their predatory chase, their maximum average weight is around 54kg/119lbs making them around half the weight of a leopard.

Cheetah mother and her cubs in the savannah, Tanzania
Cheetah mother and her cubs in Tanzania

A cheetah’s diet is made up of small mammals such as antelope, warthogs, rabbits and birds. Because of their size, prey is often poached from cheetahs by the larger animals of the savannah such as lions and hyenas. Their fur is a light yellow-brown covered with black spots with their long bushy tails exhibiting stripes towards the end.

Cheetah Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Long, slender bodies for running super fast
  • Max size – 2.3m/5ft (including 80cm tail) & 72kg/159lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 8 years
  • Activity pattern – Diurnal (to avoid lions and jaguars who hunt at night)
  • Social behaviour – Can be both solitary and found in groups
  • Habitat – Savannahs & mountain ranges surrounding deserts
  • Range – Mostly Africa with a small population in Iran
  • Prey – Primarily medium-sized ungulates such as gazelles and impalas
  • Threats/Predators – Lions, leopards & hyenas
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable (7,100 remain)

Leopard Cat Lineage | Prionailurus & Otocolobus Genera | 5 Species

Leopard Cat

The leopard cat is found throughout most of south, southeast and east Asia. Around the same size as a domestic cat, it is said to be the first species of cat to be domesticated in China. There are many different subspecies of leopard cat and their appearance varies from region to region; Tsushima leopard cats—who live in Japan—have longer, bushier hair compared to their Indonesian cousins who have a much shorter pelage with a darker, more defined colouration. They are both excellent swimmers and climbers and, being semi arboreal, like to ambush small mammals, rodents and other animals from the cover of their forested habitat.

Leopard Cat Facts

  • Defining characteristics – Bands on its head/neck and rosettes/spots on its body
  • Max size – 1m/3ft (including 30cm tail) & 7kg/16lbs
  • Average Lifespan in the wild – 4 years
  • Activity pattern – Nocturnal but can be sighted during the day
  • Social behaviour – Solitary
  • Habitat – Forests, shrubland and grassland
  • Range – South, southeast and east Asia
  • Prey – Birds, small mammals, rodents, fish etc..
  • Threats/Predators – Birds of prey, larger cats & humans
  • Conservation status – Least Concern

Sunda Leopard Cat

Sunda Leopard Cat
Sunda Leopard Cat | WikiCommons: IltizamSpeed

Fishing Cat

Fishing Cat
Fishing Cat | Flickr: Tambako The Jaguar

Flat-Headed Cat

Flat Headed Cat
Flat Headed Cat | WikiCommons: Jim Sanderson

Rusty-Spotted Cat

Pallas’s Cat

Pallas's cat aka Manul
Pallas’s Cat aka Manul aka Grumpy Cat!

Domestic Cat Lineage

Jungle Cat

Juvenile jungle cats in Janakpur, Nepal
Juvenile jungle cats in Janakpur, Nepal | WikiCommons: Aditya Pal

Black-Footed Cat

Black Footed Cat
Black Footed Cat with beautiful green eyes | WikiCommons: Patrick Ch. Apfeld

Sand Cat

Chinese Mountain Cat

Chinese Mountain Cat in XiNing Wild Zoo
Chinese Mountain Cat in XiNing Wild Zoo | WikiCommons: 西宁野生动物园

African Wild Cat

African Wild Cat
African Wild Cat in Khutse Game Reserve, Botswana | WikiCommons: Leonemanuel

European Wild Cat

Male European wildcat poking his tongue out!
Male European wildcat poking his tongue out! | Flickr: Tambako The Jaguar