House cat lineage the cat family wild cats

The Black-Footed Cat: Adorable and Feisty

Black-footed cats are related to house cats. They're the smallest cat in Africa, but they sometimes hunt prey bigger than themselves.

Would you believe that one of the world’s smallest cats can take down livestock?

Small livestock, the size of a lamb. But the black-footed cat, weighing roughly 2 to 5 pounds, does hunt them occasionally (Sunquist and Sunquist), though it prefers birds, rodents, and other small prey. (Herbst)

BFCs even interact with the real-world Big Bird – ostriches – out in the wild. (Herbst) Indoors, researchers have documented a black-footed cat stalking a nesting ostrich. The bird, whose foot is bigger than this cat, abandoned the nest and fled when its tiny stalker got close. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

The Napoleon of the feline world lives in southern Africa. It’s the smallest wild cat in Africa. (Cat Specialist Group) On the world stage, BFCs share the “tiniest” title with South America’s guigna (kodkod) and southern Asia’s rusty-spotted cat. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

Black-footed cats look a lot like house cats, as do most of the members of the house cat’s genetic lineage. (Cat Specialist Group; Johnson and others)

Despite their name, they don’t have black stockings. Only the paw pads and fur on the bottom of their feet are black – why, no one knows. (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist)

It’s very difficult to study this little wild cat, but conservationists believe its numbers are declining. That’s why they listed it as vulnerable in 2016.

Featured image: Standing black-footed cat by Charles Barilleaux. CC BY 2.0.

Cat Specialist Group. n.d. Black-footed cat. Accessed August 16, 2017.

Herbst, M. 2009. Behavioural ecology and population genetics of the African wild cat, Felis silvestris Forster 1870, in the southern Kalahari. PhD thesis, University of Pretoria. PDF download.  Last accessed November 4, 2015.

Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; Antunes, A.; and Teeling, E. C. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science 311:73-77.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild cats of the world. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


About BJ Deming

After getting an associate's degree in forestry, I studied geology as an undergraduate back in the 1980s but went into medical transcription instead. It just worked out better for me. The Internet renewed my interest in geoscience as a hobby, and when I retired in 2014, I decided to write a book about cat evolution. That started a new career for me (enormous fun but not self-supporting yet). Right now, besides blogging I am finishing up the first two books in a self-published ebook series about the cat family and its history. Thanks for your interest!

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