Tetrapod Zoology

The Leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis is native to southern and eastern Asia, including the Philippines and Indonesia. It’s a highly variable little cat, regarded by some workers as consisting of at least ten subspecies. Some (like the Sumatran leopard cat P. b. sumatranus) are small and with relatively few markings, others are large with thick, greyish fur and indistinct spotting (the Manchurian leopard cat P. b. euptilura), while others are distinctly marked and with a reddish background colour (like Bornean leopard cats P. b. borneoensis). It inhabits forest, woodland and scrub (the Manchurian subspecies lives in taiga woodland), and is said by some authors to be heavily dependant on water. Anyway…

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For whatever reason, dead Leopard cats have a habit of turning up in the UK. This suggests either that they’re very good at escaping from captivity, or that there are quite a few of them in British collections, or both. It might also suggest that they’re kept as pets more widely than is realised: in recent years, Leopard cat x domestic cat hybrids – known as Bengals – have become increasingly popular, perhaps meaning that people are more prepared to import Leopard cats for their role in the exotic pet trade. For more on the history and derivation of the Bengal visit the messybeast page here.

For other articles on exotic European felids see…

Comments

  1. #1 Dev
    June 29, 2009

    I have a bengal at home, wonderful cats. These leopard cats could have been used in breeding programmes to produce first generation hybrids.

  2. #2 Sclerophanax
    June 29, 2009

    Cheshire leopard cat? Must be from a version of Alice in Wonderland I’ve never heard of…

  3. #3 Jerzy
    June 29, 2009

    Why cats?

    All animals escape from captivity. Why talk about phantom cats, where there is more phantom camels, wild pigs, deer, antelopes, vultures, eagles, parrots and wallabies?

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    June 29, 2009

    There’s a lot of animals out there, Jerzy, and I just haven’t gotten round to writing about all of them yet :) I have at least mentioned feral wallabies… as for the cat-heaviness of Tet Zoo, I confess to finding them particularly interesting.

    And – - who said ‘phantom’?

  5. #5 JuliaM
    June 29, 2009

    “..or that there are quite a few of them in British collections..”

    Quite a few OUT of British collections too… ;)

  6. #6 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    Poor little kitties… :-( Whoever murdered them is evil.

  7. #7 Bob Michaels
    June 29, 2009

    The trade in exotic animal should be strictly controlled
    The deliberate release of these animals is cruel and will only result in their premature death.

  8. #8 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    Yes, Bob Michaels. Yes indeed.

  9. #9 Laura Tamara Henson
    June 29, 2009

    Hi, been gone for a while due to a loss of internet acess.

    There are a lot of Bengal cat breeders in the United States but I have never heard of any feral ones here. On the other hand there are plenty of reports of maned lions (as opposed to the puma) and black panthers.

    I have seen two escaped animals, though neither were cats.

    When I was a kid my dad found a turtle in the yard of a house we had just moved into. It was clearly a box turtle but it did not match any of the subspecies native to California. Getting out my field guide to Eastern wildlife I quickly identified it as… a male Florida three toed box turtle. Obviously an escaped pet as I doubt it had walked that far :).

    The other was only a sighting, I could not catch it because it fled under a hollow log but, about ten years ago I was at the San Dimas Nature Center in California when I saw a large amphibian. Looking in my field guide I saw at once that it was a hellbender (Cryptobrachus). A few years later I learned that these salamanders do not range west of the Rocky Mountains so I figured it had also been released from captivity.

  10. #10 kad
    June 29, 2009

    >>>The other was only a sighting, I could not catch it because it fled under a hollow log but, about ten years ago I was at the San Dimas Nature Center in California when I saw a large amphibian. Looking in my field guide I saw at once that it was a hellbender (Cryptobrachus). A few years later I learned that these salamanders do not range west of the Rocky Mountains so I figured it had also been released from captivity.<<<

    How confident are you in your identification? I ask because it’s highly dubious that what you saw was _Cryptobrachus alleganiensis_.

  11. #11 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    I’m not speaking for Laura, but why is it “highly dubious” that what she saw was a hellbender? It’s a perfectly reasonable thought that someone who had it as a pet or something may have released it. People do that all the time – more often than you would think.

  12. #12 Cameron
    June 29, 2009

    A few years later I learned that these salamanders do not range west of the Rocky Mountains so I figured it had also been released from captivity.

    While that’s technically true, it make a lot more sense to just say that they don’t range west of the Ozarks (something like 5-600 miles to the east of the Rockies).

    Although the species does not occur as far south as San Dimas – are you positive it wasn’t another large salamander like Dicamptodon ensatus?

  13. #13 kad
    June 29, 2009

    >>>It’s a perfectly reasonable thought that someone who had it as a pet or something may have released it.<<<

    It’s also perfectly reasonable to wonder if she might have misidentified the critter in question given how unlikely finding one in CA would be. I mean, they are so rare it’s damn hard to find them within their natural range let alone 2000 miles or so west of it.

    But yeah, it is possible someone released a hellbender from captivity and she happened to see it. However, it’s even more likely that she misidentified it. It happens. I do it too.

  14. #14 Michael Erickson
    June 30, 2009

    Yeah, she could have misidentified it – but I would rather give her judgement the benifit of the doubt. But yes, it certainly is possible that she made a mistake, everybody does.

  15. #15 Steve P
    June 30, 2009

    Hmmm. Whilst they might be good at escaping from captivity, they don’t seem to be too good at surviving outside it. I suppose there are enough predators competing for similar niches in the UK? Also, having read the article you linked to, it doesn’t sound as if these guys’d have much chance of starting up and maintaining a stable population in the wild anyway, given that, “(W)ithout human intervention, hybridization with Leopard cats would very likely stop with the sterile F1 males and the poor maternal skills of the F1 females.” Beautiful felids nonetheless – has anyone ever seen them in the wild (be it in their natural or unnatural range)?

  16. #16 Bruce J. Mohn
    June 30, 2009

    Regarding Laura’s post, if the salamander in question was seen on the land, then it certainly wasn’t a hellbender as these are strictly aquatic. Their habitat requirements are pretty strict. They are only found in fast moving, cold rivers. Keeping them in captivity is a chore.

    I wonder if it might have been a Pacific giant salamander?

  17. #17 Mu
    June 30, 2009

    Are all the spotted cats (from these to ocelot to leopard) related to a common spotted ancestor, or is the separate lines of evolution arriving at the same pattern independently?

  18. #18 Jenny Islander
    June 30, 2009

    It’s amazing the things pet owners will do. You have to wonder whether they really think that their animals are going to be okay out there or whether they just don’t want the hassle of taking the animal to a shelter, opening their mouths and actually admitting, “We’re tired of it, we don’t want the hassle of moving with it, it’s too old to be cute anymore, it wasn’t what I expected.”

    I live in Kodiak, Alaska, which has a highly mobile population. Animal control is always picking up gaunt, terrified dogs and cats, sometimes off traplines (making them three-legged dogs or cats). Or they are found later, after they have lived a wild, free life among the eagles, foxes and gigantic bears and turned into something considerably more compact and rather smelly. Okay, people whose knowledge of their own pets begins and ends with commercials might be excused for their ignorance. But I would love to get the guy who abandoned a boa constrictor at Abercrombie State Park behind a microphone to explain what the hell he was thinking!

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    June 30, 2009

    Given the mention above (comment 9) of an alleged escapee hellbender (sorry, surely an incorrect identification), I can’t resist citing…

    Myers, G. S. 1951. Asiatic giant salamander caught in the Sacramento River, and an exotic skink near San Francisco. Copeia 1951, 179-180.

    Whether Myers really saw what he said he did has been disputed.

  20. #20 David Marjanović
    June 30, 2009

    Regarding Laura’s post, if the salamander in question was seen on the land, then it certainly wasn’t a hellbender as these are strictly aquatic.

    Also, if it ran, it can’t possibly have been a hellbender, because those have stubby little legs. I guess Dicamptodon.

    Hellbenders retain open gill slits (useful for feeding) and breathe almost exclusively through the skin. As far as I know they don’t come to land more often than eels do; and like eels, and for almost the same reason as eels, they can’t run.

  21. #21 Dartian
    July 1, 2009

    Mu:

    Are all the spotted cats (from these to ocelot to leopard) related to a common spotted ancestor, or is the separate lines of evolution arriving at the same pattern independently?

    Good question, though there’s yet no definitive answer to it. There is, however, a paper on the evolution of pelage patterns in felids by Werdelin & Olsson (1997). To make a long story short, they think it’s most likely that the last common ancestor of all living felids had relatively small, simple spots – perhaps somewhat similar to those of the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus. From this primitive pattern, the authors hypothesise, all other various types of spots, blotches, rosettes, stripes and – occasionally – uniform colouration evolved in felids.

    Reference:

    Werdelin, L. & Olsson, L. 1997. How the leopard got its spots: a phylogenetic view of the evolution of felid coat patterns. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 62, 383-400.

  22. #22 djlactin
    July 1, 2009

    umm … cats from two different GENERA (Felis, Prionailurus) mating to produce viable, fertile offspring?! (According to the messy beast page, the first cross produced an F2 when backcrossed to her sire.)
    Some taxonomic revision is required here.

  23. #23 Cameron
    July 1, 2009

    djlactin: Nobody has ever attempted to define what a genus exactly is and clearly using the criterion of viable offspring production is largely untestable. I seriously doubt that anyone would place Tursiops truncatus and Pseudorca crassidens in the same genus because of their “wholphin” (I hate that friggin’ name) offspring.

  24. #24 David Marjanović
    July 1, 2009

    The ability to interbreed is a plesiomorphy, and losing it is often selected against (all else being equal, it’s in your best interest to have as many potential breeding partners as possible).

    Some use this as an argument against the two Biological Species Concepts. I sympathize.

  25. #25 Lars Dietz
    July 1, 2009

    In epiphytic cacti (tribe Hylocereeae) intergeneric hybrids are often fertile. There are some hybrids that have five species in their ancestry, which are usually classified in four different genera. I think there are similar situations in orchids and some other plants, but don’t know any details.

  26. #26 Laura Tamara Henson
    July 6, 2009

    Actually when I first saw the salamander I thought it was a common Californian Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) as the coloring was similar, if browner. As I got closer, however I noticed that the “Dicamptodon” had a fleshy frill-like flap of skin running along its sides. The only thing even remotely similar in my field guide was a hellbender (and pictures I have seen of the Giant Chinese species). I got a lot of jokes from my family about the cryptozoological giant salamander of California but it was much to small for that (about two feet long at the most), a hellbender I saw latter on in a zoo (I don’t remember if it was the Toledo or Cincinnati) was much more massive and somewhat longer but similar in shape and color. It may have been a Dicanptodon, but if it was, it sure was a weird-looking one.

    By running, I didn’t mean that it actually ran, it actually crawled and sort-of slid through the leaves on its belly while pushing along with its little legs, but it got under the log (which it was right next to)before I could reach it. I figures someone had abandoned it in the park and that was why it wasn’t near water. Not much water in the area anyway during a California summer.

    As for the turtle, he lived an additional ten years as a family pet.

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