Tetrapod Zoology

Mysterious gracile felids

i-6442ccf1e1a1780e6c5b03fa2899e9fc-melanistic kitty looks odd.jpg

The large black cats that people report from Britain and elsewhere in the world are sometimes said to look odd, being occasionally described as unusually gracile and less stocky than leopards (for an example in the literature see Trevor Beer’s description and illustration: Beer 1988). If this is true it makes these creatures a total mystery as no leopard-sized species matches this description. But what do you make of this peculiarly gracile large melanistic cat? Compare it with the melanistic leopard shown below…

i-a554e574ebd10c29261619180b39b180-melanistic leopard.jpg

I’ll explain what’s going on here later; I do know the answer. Yet again no time for a proper article today. But one is coming soon. It’s on a group of animals that have evolved beaks, are partially herbivorous, can spray poison, can be extremely tolerant to cold, and – in the big species – can easily bite open a human hand. If that doesn’t keep you guessing I don’t know what will.

Ref – –

Beer, T. 1988. The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or Legend? Countryside Publications, Barnstaple.


  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    January 9, 2008

    Oooh! Will you be covering the “cait sidhe” at all, then? =^_^= {{bounce}}

    We have one of those, at least as a particularly fine stuffed specimen — I’ll go over and take a picture of it for you if you want.

  2. #2 Mike Keesey
    January 9, 2008

    The bottom one looks fat or pregnant.

    … poisonous snapping turtles?

  3. #3 Luna_the_cat
    January 9, 2008

    Ok, your “partially herbivorous, beaks, poison spray, cold tolerant, bite open human hand” has piqued my interest, but even after a while thinking about it I’m stumped.

    But I’ll guess, something in order Hemiptera, or else — possibly — some type of cuttlefish?

  4. #4 Stevo Darkly
    January 9, 2008

    Could the cat in the top photo possibly be a melanistic cheetah?

    Although the posture looks a little “crouchier” than any cheetahs I’ve seen walking. And the forelimbs look a lot shorter than the hind limbs, so that the back slopes forward. And I can’t see the head well enough to see if the skull is the right shape. Also, the neck looks a little thick. Those characteristics look less than cheetah-like.

    But my best guess is that it’s a melanistic cheetah stalking some small animal on the ground — hence the “slightly crouched down” posture and the head held low. I can’t think of a better candidate.

    WAIT! I change my mind — it’s a melanistic cougar/puma/mountain lion. At least the front half is.

    NO WAIT! It’s a bizzare fusion of the front half of a puma and the back half of a cheetah … gone melanistic.

    I knew I’d eventually figure it out.

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    January 9, 2008

    Hm! Completely the wrong hind legs for a cheetah to my eyes, but interesting thought, it has the cheetah “pace”. (Most cats have a diagonal stride, front-left+hind-right, front-right+hind-left; cheetahs step with both right legs and both left legs together, as far as I know the only cat to walk that way.)

  6. #6 Mike Williams
    January 9, 2008

    melanistic asiatic jungle cat.?

  7. #7 shiva goldstein
    January 9, 2008

    A couple of guesses for the cat thing:

    1) The leopards most people are familiar with are captive specimens, which are well-fed and don’t get much exercise, so are a lot fatter than their wild counterparts.

    2) Young leopards or leopards at a particular point in a yearly fattening/starving cycle are thinner than adult leopards or leopards at the other side of that cycle.

    3) Really, really big F. catus or small-cat hybrids?

    The cat in the photo doesn’t look like a cheetah to me – all its legs, but especially its front legs, are too short and its torso too long. Plus, i’ve never even head of a melanistic cheetah. Melanistic pumas have also not been “officially” documented to exist (although they’re reported often enough that IMO they probably do exist). I’m going to guess that the cat in the photo is either a young, very thin leopard or one of the larger “small cat” species photographed with perspective to make it look bigger (we don’t know how wide that road is, for example).

    … New Zealand parrots?

  8. #8 HP
    January 9, 2008

    Okay, I’m just throwing this out there (I can’t believe no one else mentioned it). I don’t know if this is the case, but it certainly seems to be the hypotheses you’d want to rule out first:

    The top photo shows a normal-sized black house cat (a male, I’d guess); the camera angle, lack of definitive references for scale, and maybe some enforced perspective make it appear larger than it actually is.

  9. #9 Craig York
    January 9, 2008

    It does look a little like a slender Burmese, but I’m
    strictly an armchair adventurer, and probably couldn’t
    tell a Moogie from a Smilodon at more than a hundred
    Excepting the poison-spraying bits, I’d be inclined to
    guess its turtles, but I’m quite willing to be surprised-
    I usually am by Tet Zoo.

  10. #10 Tengu
    January 9, 2008

    Look at the tail…what kind of cat has a tail that long?

    (I have no idea what it is, but many ABC accounts note an abnormaly long tail)

    As for the funny creature, its a tetrapod, so it wont be a squid, right?

    Turtleplatypuscobra, maybe?

  11. #11 HP
    January 9, 2008

    Tengu, I only noticed how long the tail was *after* I posted my house cat hypothesis. It does look a bit long for a house cat, but then I think there’s considerably more variability in domestic cats than in wild species, as near as I can tell.

    I do think there’s nothing in that photo that unambiguously establishes that it’s an especially large cat. It might be, but you can’t tell from the photo. That might be a tree behind it, or it might be a woody shrub.

    My old cat Oberon was built not unlike the cat in the photo, strong and wiry with a with a low, flat cranium. He was just an American Shorthair moggie, the son of a barn cat; his strong slender build was just the luck of the genetic draw.

    My own experience with cats tells me that the perception of the length of a cat’s tail has a lot to do with how fluffy their fur is: an apparently thicker tail appears shorter. Get a cat soaking wet to find out how long its tail really is. It seems to me I’ve read that British Shorthairs have denser and shorter guard hairs than American Shorthairs, which, if true, would create the impression of a longer tail. And if the cat is feral or stray, it’s likely malnourished, which would accentuate the “gracile” appearance.

    I’m still going to vote “unwittingly deceptive photo of domestic cat,” although I’d be delighted to find out otherwise.

  12. #12 Alex Downs
    January 9, 2008

    The cat is a giant feral domestic. Is the black coloration genetically linked to gigantism?

    As for the other animal, I will guess platypus but I think there is only one species.

  13. #13 Stevo Darkly
    January 9, 2008

    Another guess … a melanistic golden cat?

  14. #14 Luna_the_cat
    January 9, 2008

    The cait sidhe, otherwise known as the Kellas cat:

  15. #15 kittenz
    January 9, 2008

    Female leopards are much smaller and more gracile than males, and wild or free-ranging leopards are less heavy than males, and the cat in the upper photo looks a lot like a leopard. I can’t really tell whether it is spotted under the black color; the photo is too small, but it looks like it might be. So my first impression is “leopard”.

    Photos like this can be deceiving. My beautiful Siamese cat, Duke, looks like this cat in every way, except that he is a sealpoint color rather than black. So maybe this is a photo of a house cat.

    It looks more like a leopard, though.

  16. #16 kittenz
    January 9, 2008

    I just remembered the cat for which my mind was grasping: a jaguarundi. I have seen a black jaguarundi at a zoo and it looked exactly like the cat in this photo.

  17. #17 kittenz
    January 9, 2008

    Melanistic golden cat is another good possibility. Maybe more likely than any of the other ones that have been suggested. I found a photo of one at this link. And here are two more, one tawny and one melanistic, at this link.

    [from Darren: sorry, posting of your message got held up by the spam-filter. It doesn’t like any comments with urls in them.]

  18. #18 Alan Kellogg
    January 9, 2008


    Jagaurundi? No, too large. The conformation is definitely leopard, but I’d have to say a rather short haired leopard. It would seem that leopards residing in Britain went through a genetic bottleneck where a short haired trait became fixed in the population. Along with melanism and a lengthy tail.

    The second specimen? A well fed male. You did notice the testicles?

  19. #19 cyan
    January 9, 2008

    top photo:

    – most different from typical domestic cat: length of tail in relation to body size: much longer

    – lesser differences: larger jaw & paws than typical domestic cat

    most probably not a felid that would have come about in Britain without human breeding for certain characteristics with other characteristics coming along for the ride.

    Then some of those bred domestics becoming feral & reproducing those artificially & accidentally selected traits as a result of not all of them being cared for by humans.

    ie what stands out is that it seems that tail is longer for body size to have been naturally selected in Britain, when reviewing traits of felids that have been naturally selected

  20. #20 Geoff States
    January 10, 2008

    I think I know what you’ve done Darren, the top cat is a leopard, the bottom one is a sneakily misidentified jaguar. If I’m right I think I should get a prize. Regards,
    Geoff States.

  21. #21 Jerzy
    January 10, 2008

    Congrats Geoff!

    Darren, make cat quiz for 1 April! Lots and lots of poor cat photos. 😉

  22. #22 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2008

    I know of no tetrapod that “sprays poison” other than cobras…but ain’t no beaked or herbivorous snakes. So I’m guessing a larger-scale post on amniote or diapsid systematics.
    Cats? Who cares?

  23. #23 Luna_the_cat
    January 10, 2008

    Sven DiMilo opined: Cats? Who cares?

    To which I can only reply, come within claws’ reach and say that again……

  24. #24 Marcel
    January 10, 2008

    Yeah! The next article is about Whales and Elephants!!! =)

  25. #25 Mike Keesey
    January 10, 2008

    It’s on a group of animals that have evolved beaks, are partially herbivorous, can spray poison, can be extremely tolerant to cold, and – in the big species – can easily bite open a human hand.

    Wait a second! It’s on Amniota.

  26. #26 Sordes
    January 10, 2008

    My first guess was “melanistic golden cat” as Stevo also already suggested.

  27. #27 Neil
    January 10, 2008

    A certain Mr. Hing ruined this post by telling me the answer, so no guess from me about the cat.
    But on the subject of the ‘coming soon’ post I go with the theme of previously suggestions, some large group that includes lots of animals like amniotes.

  28. #28 Alan Kellogg
    January 10, 2008

    cyan at 11:20PM January 9th 2007,

    Consider the cat in context. Especially consider the tree trunk behind the cat. Plus the range of the shot and the angle of the shot.

    Now add in the other foliage, the asphalt the cat is walking on, and the large leaf. All are telling me, that’s a large animal.

  29. #29 Nick
    January 11, 2008

    Tail is way too long for a golden cat. Legs and face are too long for a jaguarundi (and I agree that it looks too big to be either).

    Looks like a black mountain lion, though it would be a fairly skinny one. Hard to see the face (though I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?).

  30. #30 Stevo Darkly
    January 11, 2008

    Yeah, after rechecking the photo that originally had me thinking it was a golden cat, I concede that the tail of the mystery beast is too long for that, despite a strong overall similarity otherwise.

    I will go back and agree with Nick that it must be a melanistic mountain lion/cougar/puma, albeit a skinny one. However, I keep reading on the Internet (which is never wrong) that no instance of a black mountain lion has ever been photographed or otherwise documented. Yet Darren says he knows what the animal in the photo is. Hmm.

  31. #31 Hai~Ren
    January 11, 2008

    Other comments have mentioned the lack of evidence for melanistic pumas, yet the puma was the first felid which came to mind, fitting the overall body proportions of the cat in the first photo. But the Asiatic golden cat or jaguarundi could be other plausible identities.

    The head of the mystery cat certainly doesn’t appear pantherine, so it’s unlikely to be an unusually gracile or thin leopard.

  32. #32 kittenz
    January 11, 2008

    Alan Kellogg,

    Of course I noticed the testicles of male the cat in the bottom photo. The gracile cat to which I was referring was the cat in the top photo, as compared to the male cat.

  33. #33 Alan Kellogg
    January 12, 2008


    If the cat in the top photo looks fat or pregnant to you, you work with anorexic felids.

  34. #34 lucas
    June 17, 2008

    I was going to agree with the fisrt photo being of a leopard and the second a jaguar. leopards do look almost as thin as that ,but their tail is shorter.

    it is not a mountain lion, because their tail is fluffier. i do not sure that it is a domestic because of the long tail. a cat with a tail like that would seem to be a snow leopard, but snow leopards are fuffy and live in the himalayas.

    i think it is a underfed melanistic clouded leopard. i looked at a picture and it is veyr similar.

    the seconde picure is a over fed leopard or a jaguar.

  35. #35 lucas
    June 17, 2008

    I was going to agree with the fisrt photo being of a leopard and the second a jaguar. leopards do look almost as thin as that ,but their tail is shorter.

    it is not a mountain lion, because their tail is fluffier. i do not sure that it is a domestic because of the long tail. a cat with a tail like that would seem to be a snow leopard, but snow leopards are fuffy and live in the himalayas.

    i think it is a underfed melanistic clouded leopard. i looked at a picture and it is veyr similar.

    the seconde picure is a over fed leopard or a jaguar.

  36. #36 Will Meinhardt
    September 28, 2008

    The above one, is more like the ones seen in Australia and other places, as its not exactly their favorite environment and due to obvious pressures to survive… There ain’t many, though many have seen them. Though most only once.

  37. #37 pedro perdomo
    October 12, 2008

    this is the first time that i talk about what i saw early one winter morning in seymour; 10 years ago; about 50 meter away a saw a fast walking animal walking along the fence and that gave me and indication of it’s height probably a meter tall,if not taller but the funny thing is that it wasn’t a cat looking it was more like a cross between a fox and who knows what!!.Brown in color, pointy face, like a fox but a huge head, not in proportion to its body tall and fast walking and the back of the animal where the tail was looked a bit deformed, sort of like a hyena’s back but not quite as pronounce, it kind of freak me out how fast it was moving, i know what i saw and i wasn’t dreaming, surely there must be someone out there who has also seen this animal!

  38. #38 Justpassingthrough
    March 1, 2009

    I immediately thought ‘Asian Golden Cat” until I saw the tail. The culprit is actually the similar and related Borneo Bay Cat, who has a rather long tail as you can see here:

    and here

    You can even see the cheek marking like so http://www.felidae.org/PHOTO_GALLERY/bbccrop.jpg (facial markings are often but not always present in melanistic golden cats, and appear in varying degrees in both golden and bay cats). I bet if someone IDed the plants in the background, the species range would match.

  39. #39 Justpassingthrough
    March 1, 2009

    Scratch that last one. Apparently it’s a leopard after all?

  40. #40 Luh
    March 5, 2010

    Oh wow just stumbled across this, I have to say my immediate thoughts were “wow a melanistic cougar!”

    The anatomy certainly fits. Amazing photo, but it almost makes the unlikely seem even more unlikely. All the more reason to be fascinated by this awesome little pocket of cryptozoology.

  41. #41 jodie
    July 19, 2010

    the cat on the bottom is shorter and looks a lot bulkier. The one on the top is leaner and longer it looks like a mix of two different wild large animals. Some things change over a long period of time and I think this could be something like that, two totally different creatures mating together, or something that has been around for a while. Not seen enough to make it something dangerous or domestic from just the human eye passing buy and thinking its just a cat. There is somethings that haven’t been seen or discovered yet and they might hole the mysteries of what has been happening on earth for as long as it has been alive.

  42. #42 Cameron
    July 19, 2010


    You do know the answer is in the next post, right?

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