Rusty-spotted cats, Prionailurus rubiginosus, are found only in India and Sri Lanka. New localities that host this species are found with more research, increasing the known range of the species. The northern most location where the species has been sighted is in the Pilibhit forest division, which is in the Indian Terai region in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The first sighting of the animal in Central India was in the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharastra; the animal has since been spotted in many parts of Maharastra, including West Maharastra where a breeding population was identified alongside agricultural and human dominated landscapes. The species is also found in the Varushanad Valley, Western Ghats, part of a biodiversity hotspot. Rusty-spotted cats also live in the state of Gujarat, where they occur in semi-arid, dry, tropical, and deciduous forests in the center of the state and also in the city of Navagam. These cats inhabit the the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary, state of Karnataka, the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh, and other parts of Andhra Pradesh, such as the Nellore district.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
The fur of rusty-spotted cats is short and brownish gray in color with a rusty tinge. The coat of the Sri Lankan subspecies is less gray and has more of a russet color. The underside and throat are white with darker spots and stripes. The back and sides are covered by rusty brown spots. There are four dark stripes running from above the eyes, between the ears and onto the shoulders. The cheeks of the face are marked by two streaks of darker fur and the ears are small and rounded. The soles of the feet are black and the tail is about half the length of the head and body. At about half the size of a domestic cat, this is considered the smallest cat species. Full grown females can weigh up to 1.4 kg and full grown males reach up to 1.7 kg. For about the first 100 days of development, males are smaller in size than females, but after that time, males have a greater average body weight.
Range mass: 1.7 (high) kg.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Rusty-spotted cats inhabit mainly dry forest areas, but within the last few years a breeding group was found living in a human inhabited agricultural area in West Maharashtra, India. This species, along with other small cat species in the oriental region, may be surviving in agricultural areas because of large rodent populations. In southern India, the species is being found in rafters of abandoned houses in areas a considerable distance away from forests. Some rusty-spotted cat habitat is in semi-arid and tropical climates.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Habitat and Ecology
The Sri Lankan subspecies of rusty-spotted cats (Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi) as adults in the wild eat birds and mammals and will occasional catch a domestic chicken. An adult in the Frankfurt Zoo is fed a daily diet consisting of beef muscles in large chunks and small strips, beef heart, two day-old chicks, one mouse and 2.5 grams of carrot, apple, boiled egg and cooked rice. In the zoo, the animals are also given mineral supplements daily, multivitamins weekly, and vitamins k and b are added to the diet twice per week. The animals are occasionally fed banana, germinated wheat or fish. On one occasion, a male adult cat at the zoo killed a rabbit weighing 1.77 kg. The cat at the time weighed 1.6 kg and the night after the killing ate 320 grams of the muscle meat. Wild caught kittens in the zoo were fed protein-rich mash and mice, rats and minced beef muscle and heart at 7 weeks old. The kittens at this time rejected the day old chicks that were offered. Rusty-spotted cats in human populated and agricultural areas are hypothesized to be successful because of their high numbers and the availability of rodents.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; eggs
Plant Foods: roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Eats eggs); herbivore (Granivore ); omnivore
Rusty-spotted cats are largely carnivorous and likely play a role in controlling populations of small vertebrates. If individuals in the wild eat fruits, as is observed in the zoo setting, then rusty-spotted cats might benefit plants through the distribution of their seeds in fecal matter.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Species Used as Host:
- Toxascaris leonina
- Trichuris spp.
- Ancylostoma spp.
There are no known wild predators to rusty-spotted cats. However, because of its small size, some speculate that they might be eaten by larger predators. It is further speculated that mating activity could increase their vulnerability, selecting for brief copulations.
Life History and Behavior
Communications between rusty-spotted cats are scent oriented. Both males and females spray urine for scent-marking.
Communication Channels: chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The longest lifespan recorded was at the Frankfurt zoo with a rusty-spotted cat reaching 18 years of age.
Status: captivity: 18 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 17.9 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Though the mating system of rusty-spotted cats has not been explicitly studied, data available from their close relatives, leopard cats, suggests that this species may be polygynous. One male leopard cat's territory overlaps with several female territories, but territories of two females or two males never overlap. A territorial male can mate with all females within his territory. However, in zoos rusty-spotted cat males have been allowed to stay with females after mating and after the birth of kittens. The West Berlin Zoo recorded a male protecting young from zoo keepers and bringing meat to the kittens. These behaviors suggest their mating system may be monogamous.
Rusty-spotted cats mate year-round. Data indicate that 50% of young are born between July and October, which is not enough to consider rusty-spotted cats seasonal breeders. Captive individuals are recorded to begin mating activity at anywhere from 1 to 72 days after introduction (on average 7.8 days). In 49% of first introductions, mating occurred within 4 days. There is no evidence that the time between introduction of the male and mating has anything to do with the age of the female, time elapsed from the weaning, physical characteristics of the male, or the season. As in other small cats, mating includes a nape bite and straddling. Males average 7.64 mounts per hour, with each mount less than a minute long. Mating activity lasts from 1 to 11 days. The gestation period lasts between 67 to 71 days. In Sri Lanka, females were observed to give birth in hollow trees or under rock cliffs. Females in the Frankfurt Zoo repeatedly chose birthing spots that were on the ground. Birthing boxes were offered in both low and higher level areas, but the lower boxes were used. Each litter has from 1 to 3 offspring.
Breeding season: Breeding can occur at any time of the year.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.
Average number of offspring: 1.3.
Range gestation period: 67 to 71 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): Within the first years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): Within the first years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average number of offspring: 2.5.
Within an hour after birth, the mother leaves her young where she birthed them to eat and defecate. Mothers are not known to translocate their young or to carry food to them. The young start to come and go from the birth site between 28 and 32 days, and at least initially, their mother continues to remove their feces from the den. When the young emerge, they already have well-developed locomotion abilities, as reflected in their climbing onto and jumping down from wooden posts in the Frankfurt Zoo. Between 35 and 42 days of age, the young can climb downwards head first from steep branches. In one case a mother died when her offspring was only 5 weeks old, but the kitten never learned to climb downwards headfirst and continued to climb down backwards indicating extended juvenile learning periods occur. Between 47 and 50 days of age, the young can jump about 50 cm from a height of about 2 m. The young appear to tire quickly even when the mother remains active. At first, young sleep near or on their mother, retreating to where the mother lies down after her activity period. As they get older, they sleep on high ledges alone. Play was observed between siblings and between the young and mother, which appears crucial to locomotion development. Most interactions between mother and young are play oriented. In the Frankfurt Zoo, the young were removed from their mother between 3 and 9 months, but late removal never resulted in aggression between mother and offspring. Weaning starts between day 35 and 42. The young start to eat meat at around 40 days of age. Suckling was still observed up to day 60.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; extended period of juvenile learning
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prionailurus rubiginosus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
The CITES Appendix 1 rating is only for the population of rusty-spotted cats in India. According to IUCN Red List, rusty-spotted cats have an estimated combined population total in India and Sri Lanka of under 10,000 mature individuals. There is no subpopulation with more than 1000 breeding individuals. The declining trend is due to habitat loss characterized by a decline in natural forest environments and an increase in agricultural areas.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix i
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Insufficiently Known(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Insufficiently Known(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
At least in India, rusty-spotted cat deaths have occurred because the species is vulnerable to vehicular slaughter. However, the economic impact and number of cat deaths are minimal at only 2.8% occurrence of all vehicular mammal deaths observed.
There are no known benefits of rusty-spotted cats to humans.
The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) is one of the cat family's smallest members, and is found only in India and Sri Lanka. It has been listed as Vulnerable by IUCN in 2002 as the total effective population size is below 10,000 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to habitat loss, and no subpopulation containing more than 1,000 mature breeding individuals.
The rusty-spotted cat rivals the black-footed cat as the world's smallest wild cat. It is 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) in length, with a 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in) tail, and weighs only 0.9 to 1.6 kg (2.0 to 3.5 lb). The short fur is grey over most of the body, with rusty spots over the back and flanks, while the underbelly is white with large dark spots. The darker colored tail is thick and about half the length of the body, and the spots are less distinct. There are six dark streaks on each side of the head, extending over the cheeks and forehead.
Distribution and habitat
Rusty-spotted cats have a relatively restricted distribution. They mainly occur in moist and dry deciduous forests as well as scrub and grassland, but are likely absent from evergreen forest. They prefer dense vegetation and rocky areas.
Distribution of subspecies
Two subspecies are recognized:
- Prionailurus rubiginosus rubiginosus — lives in India
- Prionailurus rubiginosus phillipsi — lives Sri Lanka
In India, they were long thought to be confined to the south, but records have established that they are found over much of the country. They were observed in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, on India's east coast, and in eastern Gujurat. Camera trapping revealed their presence in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in the Indian Terai and in the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharastra. In western Maharashtra, there is a breeding population of rusty-spotted cats in a human dominated agricultural landscape, where rodent densities are high. In July and August 2011, camera trap stations recorded the feline also in Corbett Tiger reserve in Uttarakhand.
Ecology and behaviour
The rusty-spotted cat is nocturnal and partly arboreal, spending the day sleeping in dense cover or shelter such as hollow logs. It feeds mainly on rodents and birds, but may also take lizards, frogs, or insects. They hunt primarily on the ground, making rapid, darting movements to catch their prey; they apparently venture into the trees primarily to escape larger predators rather than for food. As with other cats, they mark their territory by spraying urine.
Oestrus lasts five days, and mating is unusually brief. Since the cat is likely to be vulnerable during this period, its brevity may be an adaptation to help it avoid larger predators. The mother prepares a den in a secluded location, and gives birth to one or two kittens after a 65-70 day gestation. At birth, the kittens weigh just 60 to 77 g (2.1 to 2.7 oz), and are marked with rows of black spots. The cat reaches sexual maturity at around 68 weeks, by which time it has developed the distinctive adult coat pattern of rusty blotches. Rusty-spotted cats have lived for twelve years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
Habitat loss and the spread of cultivation are serious problems for wildlife in both India and Sri Lanka. Although there are several records of rusty-spotted cats from cultivated and settled areas, it is not known to what degree cat populations are able to persist in such areas. There have been occasional reports of rusty-spotted cat skins in trade. In some areas, they are hunted for food or as livestock pests.
The Indian population is listed on CITES Appendix I. The Sri Lankan population is included on CITES Appendix II. The species is fully protected over most of its range, with hunting and trade banned in India and Sri Lanka.
As of 2010, the captive population of P. r. phillipsi comprised 56 individuals in eight institutions, of which 11 individuals were kept in the Colombo Zoo and 45 individuals in seven European zoos.
When raised in captivity as a pet, the rusty spotted cat is affectionate, playful, and expressive, and forms strong bonds with its keeper. 
In Sri Lanka, the rusty-spotted cat is known as Handun Diviya (හඳුන් දිවියා) or Kola Diviya (කොල දිවියා).
The terms 'Handun Diviya' and 'Kola Diviya' are also used by the local community to refer to the fishing cat. Both animals are nocturnal and elusive, and therefore it is difficult to determine which cat is specifically referred to as 'Handun Diviya'.
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