Added December 22 2004. Last updated 21 July 2008: added details for F. bengalensis, F. rubiginosa and F. viverrina.

A Quick Guide to



The cat family encompasses some of the most legendary predators known to man, such as the lion, tiger and leopard, as well as the much-loved domestic cat.

Cats, or to use a more scientific term, felids, are distributed throughout both the Old and New World, being absent only from Australasia and Antarctica. The classification and taxonomy of the different species remains a subject of much debate, but the traditional approach has been to divide the family into two subfamilies: Subfamily Felinae (all Felis species, which in fact form the majority of felids) and Subfamily Pantherinae, which covers lynxes, bobcats and the "big cats" (lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars). The cheetah is an unusual case whose place in this system is open to discussion.

Unlike some animal families, all species of cat are fairly similar in appearance to one another, differing mainly only in size, coloration and sometimes the size and shape of the ears. Tigers are somewhat distinctive in appearance, as are male lions (due to their mane, which is a secondary sexual characteristic). The cheetah has a rather different-shaped skull as an adaptation to its way of hunting (unique among cats), which is to run down prey at high speeds: all other felines are mainly ambush predators. The cheetah also tends to suffocate its prey, whereas most if not all other species kill by a bite to the spinal cord of vertebrate prey.

Over most of the planet, many species of cat, especially the larger ones, are threatened by various factors, the chief of which are their direct use by mankind (usually as objects of the hunt or poaching for their use in traditional medicine or for skins) and loss of habitat to human impact (either direct settlement or conversion of land to agricultural purposes). On the other hand, the domestic cat has itself become problematic in some areas due to the large number which have been abandoned or have left their owners and become feral. Most if not all hunt local wildlife in order to survive, which can be a threat to locally endangered or rare species: in addition, as many of these feral cats have not been sterilised, they breed rapidly (more so than their non-domestic relatives) and compound the problem further. As with other fertile and hardy species in the same position, such as the Cane Toad in Australia or the fire ants in North America, this arguably calls for strong measures to prevent further loss of biodiversity.

The following is a rough guide to these interesting and often beautiful predators. For further information, refer to the Bibliography at bottom.

KEY: As this is a large page we have placed a navigation link in each family box. Click on "I" to go back up to the index (Quick Links).

F. aurata, African Golden Cat F. badia, Bornean Red Cat F. bengalensis, Leopard Cat
F. bieti, Chinese Desert Cat F. catus, Domestic Cat F. chaus, Jungle Cat
F. colocolo, Pampas Cat F. concolor, Puma F. geoffroyi, Geoffroy's Cat
F. guigna, Kodkod F. iriomotensis, Iriomoto Cat F. jacobita, Andean Mountain Cat
F. lybica, African Wild Cat F. manul, Pallas's Cat F. margarita, Sand Cat
F. nigripes, Black-Footed Cat F. pardalis, Ocelot F. planiceps, Flat-Headed Cat
F. rubiginosa, Rusty-Spotted Cat F. serval, Serval F. silvestris, European Wild Cat
F. temminicki, Asian Gold Cat F. tigrina, Little Spotted Cat F. viverrina, Fishing Cat
F. wiedii, Margay F. yagouaroundi, Jaguarundi  
L. canadensis, Canadian Lynx L. caracal, Caracal L. lynx, Eurasian Lynx
L. pardinus, Spanish Lynx L. rufus, Bobcat  
P. marmoratus, Marbled Cat    
N. nebulosa, Clouded Leopard    
P. leo, Lion P. onca, Jaguar P. pardus, Leopard
P. tigris, Tiger P. uncia, Snow Leopard  
A. jubatus, Cheetah    

Species Common Name Distribution Notes
Subfamily Felinae
F. aurata African Golden Cat Southern parts of W Africa across C Africa to W Kenya


Not much is known about this species. It is believed to inhabit high deciduous areas and the edges of savannah. It may be found in the same areas as the leopard but is solitary. Coloration is variable, including melanistic individuals. I
F. a. aurata
F. a. celidogaster
F. a. cottoni
F. badia Bay Cat/ Bornean Red Cat Borneo Little known felid: believed to inhabit rocky limestone areas on forest borders or dense jungle. First upper premolar is smaller than normal with just one root. In appearance resembles Asian wild cat. There are two colour phases.I 
F. bengalensis

Leopard Cat






Asia from N China and Manchuria to the S Himalayas and SE Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia; also W Indian subcontinent Domestic cat sized but with slightly longer legs. Coloration of coat varies but black spots are present. Ventrally white. Found in a wide variety of habitats. Mainly nocturnal. Normally found near water: good swimmers, and adults also use water to conceal faeces. Variable diet. Exploited for skin trade: more numerous in south of range. Has been interbred with the domestic cat F. catus to produce so-called "Bengals". I
F. b. bengalensis China
F. b. borneoensis Borneo
F. b. chinensis  
F. b. euptailura  
F. b. horsfieldi  
F. b. javaensis Indonesia (Java) Duller coloration
F. b. manchurica Manchuria Found in taiga forest
F. b. minutus Philippines Smallest subspecies
F. b. sumatranus Indonesia (Sumatra)  Fewer markings than mainland subspecies 
F. b. trevelyani    
F. bieti Chinese Desert Cat SW China to Tibet and Inner Mongolia  I 
F. catus

Domestic Cat Worldwide I
F. chaus Jungle Cat Egypt via Middle East, W shors of Caspian Sea and C Asia to Indian subcontinent inc. Sri Lanka, SW China and SE Asia inc. Malaysia Wide variety of habitats and variation in weight and coloration: generally northern specimens have greyer coats. Melanistic individuals have also been recorded, esp. from India and Pakistan. Body markings are lacking. Overlaps with F. lybica but has larger and longer legs. Mainly terrestrial and can also swim well. Diet is variable. Some believe it to have been a forerunner of the domestic cat. I
F. c. chaus
F. c. affinis
F. c. fulvidina
F. c. furax
F. c. kelaarti
F. c. kutas
F. c. nilotica Reed Cat, Swamp Cat Egypt
F. c. oxiana    
F. c. prateri  
F. colocolo Pampas Cat







South America from Ecuador and Peru southwards (inc. Patagonia) Similar in appearance to the European wild cat. I 







F. c. colocolo
F. c. braccata
F. c. budini
F. c. crespoi
F. c. garleppi
F. c. pajeros
F. c. thomasi
F. concolor Puma





























































































F. c. concolor
F. c. acrocodia
F. c. anthonyi
F. c. araucana
F. c. azteca
F. c. bangsi
F. c. borbensis
F. c. browni
F. c. cabrerae
F. c. californica
F. c. capricornensis
F. c. coryi
F. c. costaricensis
F. c. cougar
F. c. felis
F. c. greeni
F. c. hippolestes
F. c. hudsoni
F. c. improcera
F. c. incarum
F. c. kaibabensis
F. c. mayensis
F. c. missoulensis
F. c. olympus
F. c. oregonensis
F. c. osgoodi
F. c. pearsoni
F. c. schorgeri
F. c. soderstromi
F. c. stanleyana
F. c. vancouverensis
F. geoffroyi Geoffroy's Cat





S South America from Bolivian Andes east and southwards Found in open woodland and scrubland: about the size of a domestic cat. I 





F. g. geoffroyi
F. g. euxantha
F. g. leucobapta
F. g. paraguayae
F. g. salinarum
F. guigna Kodkod


N America I   
F. g. guigna N India, Himalayas
F. g. tigrillo Manchuria
F. iriomotensis Iriomote Cat Japan (Iriomote island) Certain affinities with F. bengalensis but has different claw structure: also possesses some features of Pardofelis and F. temminicki. Toes are partly webbed and claws not entirely sheathed. Numbers are very low. I 
F. jacobita Andean Mountain Cat Andes mountains (S Peru, Bolivia, NE Chile and N Argentina) I 
F. lybica African Wild Cat Africa (exc. Congo basin and southern coastal areas of W Africa) and Arabian peninsula Possibly the forerunner of the domestic cat, and can become quite tame. May often be found near settlements and otherwise occupy a variety of habitats. I 
F. l. lybica
F. l. brockmani
F. l. cafra
F. l. caudata
F. l. chutuchta
F. l. foxi
F. l. grisela
F. l. iraki
F. l. issikulensis
F. l. jordansi Majorcan Wild Cat Majorca Status unclear, may be extinct
F. l. koslowi      
F. l. matschiei
F. l. murgabensis
F. l. nesterovi
F. l. ocreata
F. l. ornata
F. l. pyrrhus
F. l. rubida
F. l. sarda Sardinia and Sicily Very similar to African mainland form
F. l. tristani    
F. l. vellerosa
F. manul Pallas's Cat


E and S of Caspian Sea via C Asia to W China inc. Tibet and Inner Mongolia Fairly distinctive in appearance I
F. m. manul
F. m. ferruginea
F. m. nigripecta
F. margarita Sand Cat



NW Africa: Egypt: S Arabian peninsula: Turkestan: Pakistan



Discontinuous distribution. I



F. m. margarita
F. m. airensis
F. m. meinertzhageni
F. m. thinobius
F. m. scheffeli
F. nigripes Black-footed Cat S Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana Smallest African wild cat: lives in arid areas. I
F. n. nigripes
F. n. thomasi
F. pardalis Ocelot  





S USA southwards as far as Peru, Paraguay and N Argentina Unusually for cats, this species tends to live in pairs. It has been heavily impacted due to hunting in some parts of its range for its attractive fur. Taxonomy of the species can be difficult.
F. p. pardalis
F. p. aequatorialis
F. p. albescens
F. p. maripensis
F. p. mearnsi
F. p. mitis
F. p. nelsoni
F. p. pseudopardalis
F. p. pusea
F. p. sonoriensis
F. p. steinbachi
F. planiceps Flat-Headed Cat Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo) Not a well-known species. Found close to water, may be an aquatic hunter. Dentition is unusual in that all the teeth are pointed: the upper premolar has two roots. I 
F. rubiginosa Rusty-Spotted Cat Indian subcontinent  Smallest of all felids: about half size of domestic cat. I 
F. r. rubiginosa Sri Lanka   
F. r. phillipsi S India, W India and N India  
F. serval Serval













NW Africa: southern W Africa eastwards to E Africa and Ethiopia: southern Africa except SW  I 
F. s. serval    
F. s. beirae    
F. s. brachyura    
F. s. constantina NW Africa   
F. s. hamiltoni    
F. s. hindeio    
F. s. ingridi    
F. s. kempi    
F. s. kivuensis    
F. s. lipostica    
F. s. lonnbergi    
F. s. mababiensis    
F. s. robertsi    
F. s. togoensis    
F. silvestris European Wild Cat Europe (inc. Scotland but not the rest of the UK, nor Scandinavia or Mediterranean islands) into W Russia, Asia Minor, Middle East, Central Asia and W Indian subcontinent  
F. s. silvestris      
F. s. caucasia      
F. s. euxina      
F. s. grampia      
F. s. molisana      
F. s. morea      
F. s. tartesia      
F. temminicki Asian Golden Cat/ Temminicki's Cat  SE Asia inc. Nepal, Tibet, India (Assam), Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos (?), S China, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia (Sumatra) Some similarities with F. lybica. Variable coloration, slightly heavier than F. lybica. Prefers forested country. Tames well if obtained at an early age.
F. t. temminicki
F. t. dominicanorum
F. t. tristis
F. tigrina Little Spotted Cat/ Oncilla/ Tiger Cat Central and South America from Costa Rica to N Argentina Small cat found mainly in wooded countryside.
F. t. tigrina
F. t. guttula
F. t. pardinoides
F. viverrina Fishing Cat Asia; mainly SE Asia as far west as S Himalayas and Bangladesh, north to China, not Malaysia but Indonesia (Sumatra and Java): isolated pockets in SW and NW Indian subcontinent; Sri Lanka Scattered distribution. Species tends to live near streams and rivers and live primarily on fish, although frogs, snakes, birds and small mammals are also taken, and possibly aquatic invertebrates. Toes on front feet webbed, tail is quite short. Coloration fairly dull. I
F. wiedii Margay Mexico, C America and South America east of Andes as far as Argentina Similar in appearance to ocelot but rather smaller. I
F. w. wiedii
F. w. amazonica
F. w. boliviae
F. w. cooperi
F. w. glaucula
F. w. nicaraguae
F. w. oaxacensis
F. w. pirrensis
F. w. salvinia
F. w. yucatanica
F. yagouaroundi Jaguarundi S USA southwards east of Andes mountains to Peru and NW Argentina


Unusual in appearance, looking rather like a weasel or otter. Lacks spots on coat. I 
F. y. yagouaroundi
F. y. ameghinoi
F. y. cacomitli
F. y. eyra
F. y. fossata
F. y. melantho
F. y. panamensis
F. y. tolteca
Subfamilae Pantherinae
L. canadensis Canadian Lynx Alaska, Canada and W USA as far south as N California  Much smaller than the European lynx. I 
L. caracal Caracal Africa (not rainforest, Sahara or some parts of south), Arabian peninsula (not desert), Asia inc. Iran and Afghanistan as far eastwards as C India Sometimes placed in a genus of its own: relationship to Lynx not clear. The caracal is smaller in size and can also be distinguished from the true lynxes by its longer tail. I
L. c. caracal
L. c. algira
L. c. damarensis
L. c. limpopoensis
L. c. lucani
L. c. michaelis
L. c. nubicus
L. c. poecilictis
L. c. schmitzi
L. lynx Eurasian Lynx W Europe eastwards to former USSR, Mongolia and Manchuria, N and C Asia, Iran, Iraq and Asia Minor I 
L. l. lynx      
L. l. dinniki      
L. l. isabellina      
L. l. kozlowi      
L. l. sardiniae      
L. l. stroganovi      
L. l. subsolanus      
L. l. wrangelli      
L. pardinus Spanish Lynx SW Spain and Portugal I 
L. rufus Bobcat S Canada via USA southwards to S Mexico I 
L. r. rufus      
L. r. baileyi      
L. r. californicus      
L. r. escuinapae      
L. r. fasciatus      
L. r. floridianus      
L. r. gigas      
L. r. pallescens      
L. r. peninsularis      
L. r. superiorensis      
L. r. texensis      
L. r. uinta      
P. marmorata Marbled Cat S Asia (N India and Nepal eastwards via Burma to Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo) Forest-dwelling cat,believed to be rather scarce throughout its range. Supposedly fairly aggressive despite smallish size. I
P. m. marmorata  
P. m. charltoni  
Neofelis nebulosa Clouded Leopard



SE Asia (Nepal eastwards to S China and Taiwan and southwards to Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra) I 
N. n. nebulosa    
N. n. brachyurus Taiwan Presumed extinct due to hunting for pelt. 
N. n. diardii    
N. n. macrosceloides    
P. leo Lion Sub-saharan Africa as far south as Botswana: small population in W India  I 
P. l. leo Barbary Lion North Africa Extinct in the wild: may be recreated in zoos
P. l. azandica      
P. l. bleyenberghi      
P. l. goojeratensis      
P. l. hollisteri      
P. l. krugeri      
P. l. massaicus      
P. l. melanochaita Cape Lion S Africa  Extinct 
P. l. persica      
P. l. roosevelti      
P. l. senegalensis      
P. l. somaliensis      
P. l. verneyi      
P. onca Jaguar S Mexico southwards to Paraguay, Argentina and poss. Uruguay  Prefers living close to water. Regularly takes reptilian prey as well as mammals. I 
P. o. onca
P. o. arizonensis
P. o. centralis
P. o. goldmani
P. o. hernandesii
P. o. palustris
P. o. peruvianus
P. o. veracrucis
P. pardus Leopard 




Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, C Asia, Indian subcontinent, and SE Asia 








Widest range of any large cat. I   






P. p. pardus
P. p. adersi
P. p. antinorii
P. p. ciscaucasia
P. p. delacouri
P. p. dathei
P. p. ehui
P. p. felis
P. p. fusca
P. p. ituriensis
P. p. japonensis
P. p. jarvisi
P. p. kotiva
P. p. melanotica
P. p. melas
P. p. millardi
P. p. nanopardus
P. p. nimr
P. p. orientalis
P. p. panthera
P. p. pernigra
P. p. saxicolor
P. p. shortridgei
P. p. sindica
P. p. suahelica
P. p. tulliana
P. tigris Tiger S Asia inc. India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, Iran, Siberia and neighbouring former USSR, China and parts of Indonesia Striped pattern is fairly standard but overall colour varies according to range, although the undersides are usually white. I 
P. t. tigris      
P. t. altaica Siberian Tiger    
P. t. amoyensis South China Tiger S China  Critically endangered 
P. t. balica Bali Tiger  Indonesia (Bali)  Became extinct on Bali in 1937 
P. t. corbetti      
P. t. lecoqui      
P. t. sondaica Javanese Tiger Indonesia (Java)  Probably extinct? 
P. t. sumatrae Sumatran Tiger Indonesia (Sumatra) Few hundred individuals left. 
P. t. virgata Caspian Tiger  Caspian Sea area  Became extinct in 1970s 
P. uncia Snow Leopard C Asia inc. former USSR, India, China, Afghanistan and Himalayan countries Restricted to mountainous areas: frequently recorded above tree level.
Subfamily Acinonychinae
Acinonyx jubatus Cheetah Sub-Saharan African (not Congo or southernmost parts), with small areas in Asia The cheetah is atypical in that it runs its prey down at high speed rather than stalking and also because it suffocates the target rather than biting through its spinal cord. It is very light for its size. Population densities tend to be quite low. Due to a restricted gene pool following near-extinction during the last Ice Ages, mortality among cheetahs is quite high.
A. j. jubatus
A. j. hecki
A. j. ngorongorensis
A. j. raineyi
A. j. soemmeringii
A. j. venaticus


Wild Cats of the World, David Alderton, Blandford 1995. A very comprehensive guide to this order, covering not only their evolution, classification and natural history but also their relationship with humans, their role in tribal mythology and popular legend, and conservation efforts. Most of the information in this quick guide is owed to this book. Recommended.


1996 Taxonomic and Legal Status of the Felidae, Alan H Shoemaker. Important listing of taxonomic changes and revisions made since about 1993. In particular many of the Felis species are reassigned their own genus names, while the big cats remain largely untouched.

Scottish Big Cat Trust has a similar listing which complements the above.

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