“Felis margarita,” the sand cat

Fact: Sand cats are the only cats that specialize in sandy deserts.

This little cat has a fun-sounding scientific name, but it lives in some extreme places: the Saharan and Arabian deserts, as well as ultra-dry regions of southwestern and central Asia.

And it’s not named after a cocktail.

European scientists who first saw the sand cat in nineteenth-century Algieria were honoring General J. A. Margueritte (Cole and Wilson), who apparently was an earlier, French version of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

So sand cats are hardcore – up to a point.

The photographer above probably was able to get so close because “the sand cat is docile and unafraid almost to the point of absurdity.” (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002, including quote)

That must be due to lack of experience with humans.

Sand cats just don’t see that many of us, since they are hard to find out in the desert, where they often live underground and usually come out only at night. (Cole and Wilson; Mallon and others)

From what little information they have been able to collect, biologists say that the sand cat’s unusual appearance is all about adapting to its challenging environment.

That soft dense fur keeps it warm at night, while a thick layer of long hair covers the footpads so Margarita can tolerate hot sand and walk on it without sinking in too far. (Cole and Wilson)

Sand cats can even hear better than the house cat, at least at low frequencies that their favorite noms – gerbils, hamsters, and other small desert dwellers – make. (Cole and Wilson; Sunquist and Sunquist)

Conservationists aren’t sure of this wild cat’s status. Right now they consider it “Near Threatened” because of habitat disruption and occasional droughts in some areas that affect the cat’s prey. (Mallon and others)

Update, March 28, 2017: These researchers were incredibly lucky (and they later said that they took great care not to disturb the den or do anything that would lead people to it).

Featured image: Sand cat: Payman Sazesh. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Cole, F. R., and Wilson, D. E. 2015. Felis margarita (Carnivora: Felidae). Mammalian Species. 47(924):63-77.

Mallon, D. P.; Sliwa, A.; and Strauss, M. 2011. Felis margarita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. e:T8541A12917127.

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

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