Wildcat Subspecies Overview


Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis silvestris bieti)

The Chinese Mountain cat is sandy yellow, warm greyish yellow, brownish, greyish-brown, or reddish grey, with distinct stripes only on the tail, a black tail tip, and very faint stripes everywhere else on its body, especially on its legs. They have small tufts on their ears, a stocky body, and a blunt-tipped, thick club-shaped tail. They sometimes have blue or complete heterochromic eyes. This subspecies used to be considered a different species, as the now invalid taxon, Felis bieti.


Central Asian Wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata)

The Central Asian Wildcat is sandy yellow, greyish yellow, or reddish, has distinct spots that sometimes fuse into stripes, and has a light, unspotted underside. They have small tufts on their ears, a moderately slender or slim body, and a rounded-tipped, thin rope-shaped tail. They sometimes have blue eyes. This subspecies lives near agricultural and cultivated areas and near human settlements. This subspecies was also heavily trapped for its pelt in the past.


Southern African Wildcat (Felis silvestris cafra)

Ecotypes: Kalahari Wildcat (griselda)

The Southern African Wildcat is faintly to distinctly striped with distinct leg and tail stripes and is either light cool grey (sort of reminiscent of the color of a cantaloupe) or tawny grey (a warmer shade). They have distinctly reddish backed ears, a very slender body, long legs, and a rounded-tipped, thin rope-shaped tail. The Kalahari variant is Sandy cream-grey or grey cream and has even fainter back stripes and even more distinct leg stripes, especially on the front legs. This subspecies is tamable and can be easily tamed as a kitten, but is not the subspecies that domesticated itself. This subspecies used to be lumped in with Near Eastern Wildcat and was called the African Wildcat.


Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica)

Ecotypes: Gordon’s Wildcat (gordoni) and Domestic Cat (catus)

The Near Eastern Wildcat is sandy grey, sandy yellow, tawny brown, brownish grey, greyish brown, or reddish and has visible, often indistinct stripes and spots or broken stripes with distinct leg and tail stripes. They have somewhat reddish or warm backed ears, a moderately slender or slim body, and a rounded-tipped, thin rope-shaped tail. Their dorsal stripe continues onto the tail. This subspecies is tamable, can be easily tamed as a kitten, has adapted to living in agricultural areas, near human settlements, and around humans, is less wary of humans, and is the subspecies that has domesticated itself. The Domestic cat, despite being considered its own subspecies, is part of this subspecies.


European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris)

Ecotypes: Scottish Wildcat (grampia), Caucasian Wildcat (caucasica), and Spanish Wildcat (tartessia)

The European Wildcat, the nominate and original subspecies of wildcat, is greyish brown, brownish grey, brown, or reddish, has leg stripes, distinct, indistinct, or faint widely spaced back stripes, and has a ringed tail and black tail tip. They have a stocky or slim body and a blunt-tipped, thick club-shaped tail. They often have green or bluish green eyes. Their distinct dorsal stripe stops at the base of the tail. The critically endangered Scottish variant, which used to be considered a different subspecies, appears darker-furred, has more distinct stripes, and pencil stripes over its eyes that sort of look like eyebrows. This subspecies is very shy, very avoidant of humans and human influenced environments and is very difficult to tame, even as kittens. Also the Scottish variant is the one wildcat that infamously can’t become tame.


Wildcat Phylogeny and ICUN List Status


The closest living relative to the wildcat is the sand cat (Felis margarita).

The wildcat species is listed as “Least Concern” on the ICUN List. The Chinese Mountain cat, the least widespread of the subspecies, is listed as “Vulnerable,” while the other four subspecies (the silvestris European clade, the lybica Near Eastern And Domestic clade, the cafra Southern African clade, and the ornata Central Asian clade) are listed as “Least Concern.” Of all the clades, the Lybica clade is the most widespread, even if you included just its “native” range and not its “introduced” range from the domestic form as well.

From Felis Attica to Martelli’s Cat to Wildcat

The genus Felis evolved around 12 million years ago and gave rise to many small cat species. There are four extant species, the Jungle cat (Felis chaus), the Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes), the Sand Cat (Felis margarita), and the Wildcat (Felis silvestris).

9 million years ago in the late Miocene, a small cat the size of a modern bobcat (Lynx rufus), albeit with a longer profile, known as Felis attica appeared. It was an ancestor of the first modern Felis cats, such as the Martelli’s cat (Felis lunensis). Fossil specimens of this now-extinct species, Felis attica, have been found and uncovered in western Eurasia. This species was the smallest of the Miocene Felinae. Felis attica, due to differences from the modern Felis cats, was reclassified into the genus Pristifelis in 2012, making it Pristifelis attica.

One of the first modern Felis cats to appear is the now extinct Martelli’s cat (Felis lunensis), which appeared in Europe 2.5 million years ago in the Pliocene. Fossil specimens of the Martelli’s cat were found and uncovered in Italy and Hungary. The Martelli’s cat was named after Ugolini Martelli, the naturalist who first described this Felis genus cat in 1906.

The modern wildcat is believed to have evolved from the Martelli’s cat 2 million years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.

The first wildcat subspecies to evolve is the stocky, club-like tailed, thick furred, striped European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris).  During the Late Pleistocene, some wildcats migrated south into the Middle East due to the ice ages, giving rise to the more slender, rope-like tailed, thinner furred, and broken striped Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). From the Near Eastern wildcat gave rise to the lightly striped, longer legged, even more slender Southern African Wildcat (Felis silvestris cafra) and the distinctly spotted and slender Central Asian wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata). The Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis silvestris bieti) evolved from the Central Asian Wildcat, but is stockier, thicker furred, more faintly striped, and has a club-like tail.