Species facts: The “Hummingbird” Cat




The rusty-spotted cat of India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal seems too small to support its impressive scientific name of Prionailurus rubiginosus.

Called the “hummingbird” cat because it is small and very active, Rusty packs up to four pounds of muscle and catitude into a body the size of a six-month-old domestic cat. (SCARG)

That’s an adult “hummingbird.”

A kitten weighs about 1.6 ounces at birth (SCARG) – less than two CDs, or about as much as two dollars’ worth of US quarters.

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the leopard-cat lineage.

Who’s this?

What little is known about the rusty-spotted cat comes from observing it in zoos. (Mukherjee and others)

Since this is one of the world’s smallest cats, your observation of Rusty in the wild, unless you’re very patient and very lucky, is likely to be,”Those leaves moved. What just happened?”

What does it look like?

Rusty is half the size of a domestic cat but it’s built like one, with a rather short tail and legs.

The fur that you may have gotten a glimpse of through the leaves is short and brownish-gray in India, a little more reddish in Sri Lanka.

There are two dark stripes on each cheek and four straight stripes on its forehead that go over the head and down to the shoulders. Its throat, chest and belly fur is white, with dark spots and bars.

Here are some great images of the “hummingbird” cat in the wild.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

The rusty-spotted cat is found near settlements but doesn’t seem to like people much. Unlike the jungle cat, which shares its range, this little carnivore isn’t much of a threat to poultry or other small livestock. (Cat Specialist Group; Mukherjee and others)

When did it evolve?

According to some researchers, the leopard-cat line developed roughly six million years ago, after the puma lineage but before the domestic cat line. (O’Brien and Johnson)

The Cool Factor:

The hummingbird cat is so tiny!

Here’s an adult in captivity, fighting a losing battle with its nemesis – an empty coffee cup:

Where can I find it?

Below an elevation of 2480 meters (8100 feet) in India (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu-Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh), Nepal, and Sri Lanka. (Mukherjee and others)

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

No one really knows much about rusty-spotted cats, not even how many are out there. But based on sightings and other statistics, conservationists estimate that it is at risk because of human activities in India. (Mukherjee and others)

In Sri Lanka, little is known about the “hummingbird” cat and it is considered endangered there. (SCARG)

Featured image: Young rusty-spotted cat in Parc des Félins, France, by Abujoy. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Video: Shared on Facebook by the Small Cat Advocacy and Research group in Sri Lanka.

Cat Specialist Group. Rusty-spotted cat, Prionailurus rubiginosus. http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/catfolk/index.php?id=120 Last accessed September 2, 2017.

Mukherjee, S.; Duckworth, J. W.; Silva, A.; Appel, A.; and Kittle, A. 2016. Prionailurus rubiginosus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18149A50662471. Also http://www.iucnredlist.org/attachments/2600 . Last accessed September 2, 2017.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

Small Cat Advocacy and Research group (SCARG). Rusty-Spotted Cat. https://scar.lk/rusty-spotted-cat/. Last accessed on September 2, 2017.


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