Taking a break from our Small wild cat lineages we look at paws. Along with tails and ears (see previous posts), it is another physical trait whereby we can see some morphological differences in small wild cats. In this post, we will look at a handful of cats and show how the differences in their paws are suited to their habitats and hunting styles. From big to small to fluffy to webbed, cats have some of the most interesting feet in the animal kingdom.
With the biggest (and in our opinion the best) paws we first look at the Canadian lynx. In comparative terms the Canadian Lynx and the Bobcat are similar in size, , their paws however differ vastly. Canadian Lynx paws are much larger and much furrier and have the ability to spread its toes out to increase the surface area. These traits allow the lynx to use their paws much like snowshoes, distributing its weight and helping it manoeuvre quickly during a chase in snowy conditions. The thick fur of the paws of a Canadian Lynx also help with the cold.
Another Cat with furry paws is the Sand Cat – distributed across the deserts of Africa, rather than needing protection from the cold these small cats furry paws actually protect them from the soaring temperatures of desert sands. It also means they leave no tracks behind, maybe helping them avoid predators. Interestingly Sand cats also have the ability to spread their toes as a way of distributing their weight presumably to assist with walking on sand in the same way it would on snow.
One of the more noted characteristics often associated with the fishing cat is webbed feet. However, today its known that the webbing on this cat isn’t much more developed than the bobcat with even domestic acts having a slightly webbed paw. More interesting is the fact they have semi-retractable claws. Whilst fishing cats can swim and even dive after fish they have also been seen to gently tap the surface of the water mimicking the ripples of an insect. Then, once the fish has come into striking range, it will use its claw to hook the fish out of the water. Fishing cats, along with Cheetahs, are the only cats to have this feature.
Finally, we look at The Margay, Marbled cat and both clouded leopard species. All three cats are arboreal and therefore amazingly agile climbers. All three of these cats have wide forepaws that aid with balance they all have the unique ability to rotate their hind paws 180 degrees allowing them to climb down tree’s headfirst. No other cats can do this and its the reason your domestic cat can sometimes need help to get down from that tree they foolishly decided to climb.
Next time we continue our look at cat lineages…