|Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)|
Brian Houghton Hodgson, 1844 (= Felis bengalensis Kerr, 1792)
Prionailurus is a genus of four species of small, spotted wild cats found in Asia. They are typically forest-dwelling. Most are able to swim well; some species are actually semi-aquatic and feed mainly on fish and other aquatic animals.
Prionailurus was first proposed by the Russian explorer and naturalist Nikolai Severtzov in 1858 as a generic name for a single felid occurring in tropical Asia, namely Felis pardachrous described by Brian Houghton Hodgson — the leopard cat. As varieties, Severtzov lists Felis nipalensis described by Thomas Horsfield and Nicholas Aylward Vigors, Leopardus Elliotti, Leopardus Horsfieldi and Leopardus chinensis described by John Edward Gray, and Felis bengalensis described by Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest.
The British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock recognized the taxonomic classification of Prionailurus in 1917. In 1939, he described the genus on the basis of skins and skulls, and compared these to body parts of Felis. Prionailurus species are marked with spots, which are frequently lanceolate, sometimes rosette-like, and occasionally tending to run into longitudinal chains, but never fusing to form vertical stripes as in Felis. Prionailurus skulls are lower and less vaulted than Felis, the facial portion is shorter than the cranial, the floor of the orbit is longer, the nasal bones are not everted above the anterior nares, the outer chamber of the bulla is much smaller than the inner. Pocock classified the leopard cat, rusty-spotted cat and fishing cat as belonging to the genus Prionailurus.
Pocock's classification of Prionailurus is widely accepted as comprising:
- Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)
- Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)
- Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
- Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)
Molecular analysis of leopard cat populations indicates a clear distinction between northern populations from Tsushima, Korea, Siberia, China and Taiwan and southeast Asian populations. If these genetic differences indicate a specific distinction, P. b. euptilurus may yet be a valid species. The Iriomote cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis) has been proposed as a distinct species based on morphology, but is considered a subspecies of P. bengalensis based on genetic analysis.
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