All felids bear a strong resemblance to one another. Unlike members of the family Canidae, felids have a short rostrum and tooth row, which increases bite force. Loss or reduction of cheek teeth is particularly apparent in felids, which have a typical dental formula of 3/3, 1/1, 3/2, 1/1 = 30. In most species, the upper premolar is significantly reduced and in Lynx, has been completely lost. Felids have well developed carnassials. Their cheek teeth are secodont and are specialized for shearing. Felid canines tend to be long and conical and are ideal for puncturing prey tissues with minimal force. Besides having a short rostrum, felids also have large bullae that are divided by a septum; no alisphenoid canal, and paroccipital processes flattened against the bullae. Felids also have a vestigial or absent baculum and retractable claws. Distal segments of digits in the relaxed position are pulled back and up into a sheath by an elastic segment, which prevents claws from becoming blunt. Cheetahs are the exception as they cannot retract their claws and, when attacking prey, they tend to run into them so that they fall, much like canids. Cats have five toes on their forefeet and four on their hindfeet. They are digitigrade, and their metapodials are moderately long but never fused.
Felids range in body mass from 2 kg in black-footed cats (Felis negripes) to 300 kg in tigers (Panthera tigris), and exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males being larger and more muscular than females. In some species, such as lions (Panthera leo), males may also have ornamentation that is used to attract potential mates. Throughout their range, felid coats are longest where temperatures tend to be coldest (e.g., snow leopards). Felids exhibit a wide range of colors, from black to orange to white, and many species have cryptically colored coats containing rosettes, spots, and stripes that help camouflage them while hunting for prey. While melanistic variants (solid black) are common in many species, completely white individuals tend to be rare. A great deal of color variation can occur within individual species and newborns tend to have different coloration than adults. For example, adult cougars (Puma concolor) rarely have spots while kittens almost always have spots. In general, the ventral surface of felids tends to be pale while the face, tail, and back of the ears often have black or white markings.
Felids have a number of morphological adaptations that have allowed them to become the most adept hunters in the order Carnivora. They have digitigrade posture that results in a rapid stride rate and powerful forelimbs that help them capture and retain large prey. Often, felids are cryptically colored, which helps camouflage them while hunting. In addition, most felids have large eyes and exceptional vision. In nocturnal species, the tapetum lucidum helps intensify limited light. Many species also have large semi-rotating ears. Finally, the felid tongue has a sandpaper-like texture due to posteriorly directed papillae on its dorsal surface, which are thought to help retain food in the mouth and remove tissue from the bones of prey.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation
- Kitchener, A. 1991. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publishing Associates.
- Walker, E. 1975. Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.