Ten Amazing Small Wild Cats

Forget the lions and tigers, these prowling felines have much more to tell us about the natural world

A serval kitten. (© Anup Shah/Corbis)

Big cats get the lion’s share of our attention. We admire their power, felicity of movement, and striking coats of spots and stripes. But the majority of cat species alive today are small – there are more than thirty species of little cats that prowl landscapes from the Sahara Desert to Siberian forests. And while they might look like the moggies that purr and cuddle on our laps at home, these cats are wildly different, adapted to mimic the calls of their prey, spring astounding distances into the air, and blend into the jungle so thoroughly that even scientists have trouble finding them. Here’s a look at some of the world’s cats that are smaller, but in no way lesser:

Leopardus guttulus

(Trigo TC et al.)

The little, spotted cat Leopardus guttulus doesn’t have a common name yet. That’s because researchers didn’t even know this species existed until last year. Genes were key to detecting the cat’s existence.

Found in the tropical rainforest of southern Brazil, Leopardus guttulus was thought to be a population of a particularly adorable feline named the oncilla. But a study of the cat’s genetics showed that it wasn’t interbreeding with oncilla populations and had become genetically distinct despite looking quite similar. Leopardus guttulus is a “cryptic species” given away by DNA.


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