The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is an endemic feline in continental Europe, as well as Scotland, a large part of Turkey, and the Caucasus. It is often encountered in forests but has also been observed in grasslands and wetlands.
Figure 1. European wildcat distribution. Source: Wikipedia.
Wildcat physical characteristics vary in different areas. European wildcats tend to mean weights of 3.5 kg, however, data collected in Greece indicate weights around 5 kg. Their bodies (not including tails) are between 50 to 70 cm long and their tails span between 21 to 35 cm. Commonly, they are grey/brown coloured, with fluffy tails and apparent black stripes along their bodies. This makes them very similar to tabby cats. Their colouration provides them with camouflage and makes them hard to distinguish in forests, one of their more common habitats. Moreover, and due to often staying in seasonally cold places, European wildcats maintain thicker coats during winter.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Female European wildcats often mate with multiple males, within each reproductive season, which often takes place near the end of winter (between January and March). During this time, females go into oestrus and males congregate near them and court them. The competition between the males takes various forms, including loud growls and physical displays, as well as physical conflict. Interestingly and due to females mating with multiple mates, kittens within each litter may hail from different sires.
Males do not partake in caring for the young and pregnant females bear their litters in protected burrows, often under rocks or thick vegetation. This takes place between 56 to 68 days after conception, with litters of one to eight kittens. Births often happen within May, at the onset of spring, a common occurrence in European animals. The relatively good weather, as well as the increased food availability during this time, assist the mother in caring for her young and increase the newborns’ chances of survival. Kittens are born with shut eyes, which tend to open at about 10 days after birth, and are weaned at about 30 days after birth. After four to 10 months, but commonly at an average of 5 months, and after they have been taught how to hunt and survive, young cats are forced to leave the mother’s nesting site.
In the wild, wildcats live up to 15 years. However, in captivity, their lifespan doubles, at 30 years. Each generation is approximately spaced by five years.
- Dewey, T. (2020). Felis silvestris wild cat. Animal Diversity Web. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Felis_silvestris/
- Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (compilers and editors). 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.