AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: cat

Big Cat, Little Bird

A fishing cat in a bird's nest

Credits: Allama Shibli Sadik & Muntasir Akash / De Gruyter


Cats don’t hate water, contrary to popular belief. In fact, there is a species of wildcat evolved to hunt in water. 

Aptly named “fishing cats,” Prionailurus viverrinus is a species of South Asian cat that has evolved to fish. Unlike other felines, they have slightly webbed forepaws and double layered water-resistant fur. This gives them an edge over others as it means they won’t freeze when they fish, giving them an opportunity to pass this trait down and allows them to stay reliant on their fishing diet, unlike other cats who primarily rely on land prey. They are medium sized cats with yellowish fur, and black tabby stripes that gradiate into mottled spots.

They catch their prey by idling on the edge of a body of water, and scooping the fish out of the water. Very rarely do they wade in and put their head underwater to fish.

But their diet does not solely consist of fish. They are also known to eat small rodents, lizards, amphibians and birds in addition to fish.

The only problem is that with the monsoon season, it is nearly impossible to fish as the land prey is gone, and their usual waters are flooded or destroyed. These cats live in areas prone to flooding and the lack of infrastructure means that the prey cannot flee (also fish cannot sustain on land).

So what does the brilliant cat do?

It climbs trees and preys upon the bird colonies. It has been seen preying upon waterbirds (ie. herons, moorhens, cormorants) high within the tree canopy, snapshotted with camera traps.

This might just be its secret to success since the local population also relies on the fish and (since people have more power than these felines) will deter (and kill) these cats. These waterbirds are not just the cats’ benefit, but the benefit of the locals as well!

Unfortunately, due to brackish waters and the urbanization of wetlands, the clever species is slowly dying out. But that’s another article.

There isn’t a lot known about these guys, but there are ongoing research projects with them.

Big Cats of the Past

A snow leopard at the Toronto Zoo The snow leopard is the closest living relative to the Panthera blytheae

In Tibet in 2010  Z. Jack Tseng and Juan Liu travelled to a remote section of the Tibetan Plateau. Whilst there they came across a collection of prehistoric fossils, mostly antelope and other known herbivores, with one notable exception, the skull of a previously undiscovered big cat which they called Panthera blytheae. This skull and the accompanying jawbone fragments belong to what is now, to date, the oldest known big cat. After analysis of its teeth, it has been theorized that this cat would have been quite similar in habitat and hunting style to the modern snow leopard. “In terms of the overall size it would be a little bit smaller than a snow leopard– the size of a clouded leopard and those living cats grow up to around 20kg [44lb],” said Jack Tseng, the discoverer.

Skull of a snow leopard, which is very similar to the skull of the newly found Panthera blytheae

This discovery is quite significant with regards to big cat evolutionary history. Current experts hold that big cats broke from the main felinea subfamily some time around 6.37 million years ago. However, until this find, the oldest big cat fossil was a 3.5 million year old fossil from Tanzania. P. blytheae not only pushes the date back almost two million years, being estimated to have lived between 4.10 and 5.95 million years ago, but also gave weight to the theory that big cats originated first in Asia, not in Africa. Anjali Goswami, a palaeobiologist at University College London said, “This beautiful fossil supports the Asian origin for the group, bringing together molecular, living and fossil data into a unified view of pantherine evolution. It also supports the idea that the Tibetan plateau was, and remains, an important biogeographic region for large mammals and is the center of origin for many important groups. Nailing down the place of origin for pantherines also means that we can better understand the environmental and ecological context in which this group evolved.”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar