5 Fun Facts About Small Cats

By Jamie Zaccaria
Communications and Digital Content Manager

Flat-headed cat Borneo.

September 15, 2021

Did you know that 33 of the 40 species of the world’s wild cats are classified as small cats? Despite inhabiting five of the world's seven continents in nearly every habitat, the world’s lack of data on small cats can significantly hamper conservation action. Check out five of these felines and their unique traits below!

Sand cats staring.

1. Sand cats do not always need to drink water.

According to Panthera France Director Grégory Breton (who is leading a study on this species), sand cats “draw enough water from the fluids they ingest when they eat their usual prey.” This is a useful skill since these small cats live in desert landscapes where water is scarce.

Fishing cat on tree.

2. Fishing cats are specially adapted for aquatic living. 

The fishing cat, one of the rarest cats in South and Southeast Asia, is associated with wetland habitats like marshes, reedbeds and mangroves. These small cats are perfectly adapted to the water as their feet are partially webbed and they have large protruding claws used to catch aquatic prey. 

Serval walking.

3. Servals are expert jumpers and can catch birds mid-flight.

The serval’s proportionally long legs allow them to move quickly through grasslands targeting rodents, birds and other small prey. Unsurprisingly, these cats are Olympic-worthy jumpers and can even catch birds in flight with a single vertical leap, sometimes higher than 2 meters. 


4. Margays mimic prey noises when hunting.

Recent studies from Brazil’s Amazon have shown observations of this small cat imitating the calls of small monkeys known as pied tamarins. This is the first evidence of felines using this behavior in the Western Hemisphere.

Black-footed cat looking.

5. Black-footed cats are the most successful feline predators.

Despite being the smallest wild cat found in Africa, the black-footed cat is known as the deadliest predator with the highest kill rate (successful killing of prey) at 60 percent. In comparison, lions only average a successful kill about 20 to 25 percent of the time. Nocturnal hunters, black-footed cats can kill a dozen small birds and rodents in a single night.