Not to be confused with "wild cat" as a general term for non-domesticated felines, or the occasional American use of "wildcat" to mean a lynx, cougar, or bobcat -- this "wildcat" is Felis silvestris (or sylvestris) and is the wild species from which the Sylvestris lybica cattus (common domesticated cat) descends. They are found throughout much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and there are at least twenty subspecies which inhabit specific locations and have different coat colors and other small differences. Many of the subspecies have interbred with escaped domestic cats, which are most likely the direct descendants of the African wild cat (Felis silvestris libyca), obscuring the original relationships between subspecies. Wildcats are generally slightly bigger than domestic cats, but they are similar enough that wildcat embryos can be implanted in the uterus of a domestic cat and be born normally.
A few subspecies:
- Felis silvestris silvestris
- A scientific name given to European wildcats in general, which vary widely in chosen habitat. Scottish wildcats like the heath and the rocky outcroppings; German wildcats like coniferous forests while those in the Caucasus Mountains prefer broadleaf forests. Their tails are bushier and more blunt-ended than those of domestic cats.
- Felis silvestris ornata
- The Indian desert cat, which lives in the semi-deserts and steppes of southwestern Asia into India. Asian breeds of domestic cat are thought to have some of this strain in them too. These cats are usually a blotchy light brown to blend in with their surroundings, and have slight ear tufts of hair.
- Felis silvestris gordoni
- The Arabian desert cat is nearly extinct in the wild due to interbreeding with domestic cats. In 1986, a breeding program was started with a captive-raised male and a wild-caught female in Abu Dhabi and four cats each were sent to programs in Germany and California.
- Felis silvestris libyca
- The African wild cat, probably first domesticated by Egyptians more than 4000 years ago, still survives in the remoter sub-Saharan parts of Africa, living on small mammals and insects. It usually looks like a pale striped tabby, and villagers still adopt wild kittens to control pests.