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Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Prionailurus
Severtzov, 1858
Type species
Felis pardachrous
Brian Houghton Hodgson, 1844 (= Felis bengalensis Kerr, 1792)
Prionailurus range.png
Prionailurus ranges

Prionailurus is a genus of spotted, small wild cats native to Asia.[2][3] Forests are their preferred habitat; they feed on small mammals, reptiles and birds, some also on aquatic wildlife.[4]

Taxonomic history[edit]

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.[5]

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 tend to run into longitudinal chains, but never fuse to form vertical stripes as in Felis. Skulls of Prionailurus are lower and less vaulted than of Felis. The facial part is shorter than the cranial, and the bottom of the orbit longer. The nasal bones are not everted above the anterior nares, and 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.[2]

Pocock's classification of Prionailurus has been widely accepted, with five species now recognised:[1][6]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Close-up of a Leopard Cat in Sundarban.jpg P. bengalensis (Kerr, 1792) Leopard cat Indian subcontinent, Southeast and East Asia
Blacan Indonesia.jpg P. javanensis (Desmarest, 1816) Sunda leopard cat Sunda islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo and the Philippines
Flat-headed cat 1 Jim Sanderson.JPG P. planiceps (Vigors & Horsfield, 1827) Flat-headed cat Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra
Prionailurus viverrinus 01.jpg P. viverrinus (Bennett, 1833) Fishing cat South and Southeast Asia
Rusty spotted cat 1.jpg P. rubiginosus (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1834) Rusty-spotted cat India, western Terai of Nepal, Sri Lanka

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.[7] The Iriomote cat (P. bengalensis iriomotensis) has been proposed as a distinct species based on morphology, but is considered a subspecies of P. bengalensis based on genetic analysis.[8]

Intergeneric hybridization[edit]

At least one Prionailurus subspecies, the leopard cat (P. b. bengalensis) has been crossbred successfully and frequently since the 1960s to another genus, the domestic cat (Felis catus). This fertile hybrid has been developed into the standardized Bengal cat breed, the most vividly spotted breed of domestic cat. The hybrids are generally docile after the fourth generation (F4) of breeding away from wild stock and into domestic or mostly-domestic lines.


  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 543–544. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b Pocock, R. I. (1939). "Genus Prionailurus Severtzow". The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 265–284.
  3. ^ Johnson, W. E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W. J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E., O'Brien, S. J. (2006). The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment. Science 311: 73–77.
  4. ^ Nowell, K.; Jackson, P. (1996). Wild Cats: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland: IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group.
  5. ^ Severtzow, M. N. (1858). Notice sur la classification multisériale des Carnivores, spécialement des Félidés, et les études de zoologie générale qui s'y rattachent. Revue et Magasin de Zoologie Pure et Appliquée 2e Série, T. X Séptembre 1858: 385–396.
  6. ^ Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; Werdelin, L.; Wilting, A.; Yamaguchi, N.; Abramov, A. V.; Christiansen, P.; Driscoll, C.; Duckworth, J. W.; Johnson, W.; Luo, S.-J.; Meijaard, E.; O’Donoghue, P.; Sanderson, J.; Seymour, K.; Bruford, M.; Groves, C.; Hoffmann, M.; Nowell, K.; Timmons, Z.; Tobe, S. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News. Special Issue 11: 23–29.
  7. ^ Tamada, T. Siriaroonrat; B. Subramaniam, V.; Hamachi, M.; Lin, L.-K.; Oshida, T.; Rerkamnuaychoke, W.; Masuda, R. (2006). "Molecular Diversity and Phylogeography of the Asian Leopard Cat, Felis bengalensis, Inferred from Mitochondrial and Y-Chromosomal DNA Sequences". Zoological Science. 25 (2): 154–163. doi:10.2108/zsj.25.154. PMID 18533746.
  8. ^ Izawa, M. & Doi, T. (2016). "Prionailurus bengalensis ssp. iriomotensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. International Union for Conservation of Nature.