Felis margaritasand cat

Geographic Range

This species is found in three distinct areas of the world: Sahara Desert of Africa in the countries of Algeria, Niger and Morocco; throughout the Arabian Peninsula; and parts of Central Asia including Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Cunningham, 2002; "Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)


Members of this species are psammophillic (sand dwelling), occurring in very arid, dry habitats such as deserts. They are found in desert habitats ranging from plains with little vegetation to rocky valleys with shrubs and trees. They live in extreme conditions with daily surface temperatures reaching up to 51ºC during the daytime, while nighttime temperatures can drop as low as -0.5ºC. (Cunningham, 2002; Goodman and Helmy, 1986; "Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

Physical Description

Felis margarita is the size of a domestic cat and the smallest of all wild cats, weighing between 2.1-3.4 kg (males) and 1.4-3.1 kg (females). Their most distinctive characteristic is their large ear pinnae, which protect the ears from blowing sand. The most highly developed senses of this species are hearing and smelling. Being nocturnal animals, they rely on sensitive hearing to locate prey moving below the surface of the ground. The tympanic meatus and auditory bulla are relatively much larger in this species than in any other felids. Thick fur of medium length covers the body and protects it from the harsh nighttime temperatures. Coat colors range from pale yellow to grey. They have dark brown to black stripes covering the tail and limbs and the eyes are accented with reddish-orange stripes. The chest and chin are always white. Another distinguishing characteristic of the species is the wiry, black fur that covers the pads of their feet, protecting them from the desert's hot surfaces. The hair aids in increasing the maneuverability through the sand. Researchers find this characteristic troublesome because it makes their footprints almost invisible. (Garman, 1997; "Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1.4 to 3.4 kg
    3.08 to 7.49 lb
  • Range length
    450 to 570 mm
    17.72 to 22.44 in


Sand cats are a solitary species and not much is known of their mating systems. It is believed that their hearing plays an important part in communication during the mating season. (Garman, 1997; "Sand Cat", 2002)

Sand cats in captivity breed more than once a year. In the wild their reproductive seasons are dependent on location. In the deserts of the Sahara, the reproductive season begins in January and ends in April. In Turkmenistan, the season begins sometime in April. In Pakistan, the breeding season lasts from September to October. In part, the differences may be due to climate or availability of resources. The gestation period lasts, on average, 59-63 days. Sand cats give birth to between 1-8 kittens although 4-5 kittens are normal. Although sand cats are not sexually mature until 9-14 months, they are relatively independent at 6-8 months of age. Fast maturity may be an advantageous trait in such a hostile environment. ("Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    once/year, but in captivity they can breed more than once annually
  • Breeding season
    January-April (Sahara), April (Turkmenistan) & September- October (Pakistan)
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    59 to 63 days
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 8 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 to 14 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 14 months

No information is available at this time.


The sand cat is known to live 13 years in captivity, but they have a high juvenile mortality rate. ("Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13.9 years


Sand cats are not good climbers or jumpers, but they are excellent diggers. They use their digging ability to dig shallow burrows to escape the heat of the desert during the day. They are known to lie on their backs outside their burrows to release internal heat. Their burrows are shared with other individuals, but more than one cat never occupies the same burrow simultaneously. They are generally nocturnal, although members of a subspecies from Pakistan are nocturnal during the summer and active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) during the winter. Because of their secretive habits, this species is poorly known, and it is suspected that their current population and distribution may be greater than estimated. Sand cats have been described to close their eyes at night when humans approach making them difficult to see them because they blend in with their environment. (Bunaian, et al., 1998; Cunningham, 2002; "Sand Cat", 2002; "Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

  • Average territory size
    16 km^2

Home Range

Male and females have overlapping territories that are on average 16 km^2. They sometimes roam over distances of up to 8-10 km^2. (Bunaian, et al., 1998)

Communication and Perception

Bark-like sounds are used as mating calls to communicate between individuals. They allow individuals to locate one another over long distances. ("Sand Cat", 2002; "The Sand Cat Felis margarita Loche", 1996)

Food Habits

Sand cats are mostly carnivorous and eat a variety of prey such as gerbils, sand voles, hares, spiders, reptiles, birds, insects and venomous snakes. This species are known to be “fearless snake hunters” that attack venomous vipers. They are considered opportunistic feeders that take what they can find in their barren habitat. Prey provide the sand cat with the fluids they need to live in places where there is little water. (Bunaian, et al., 1998; Cunningham, 2002; Goodman and Helmy, 1986)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods


Predators of sand cats include of snakes, jackals and owls. In addition to natural predators, the sand cat is also threatened by humans in the form of poisoning and capturing for the illegal pet trade. Overall, the sand cat is the least threatened of wild cats. ("Sand Cat", 2002; "Sand Cat", 2003)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

The sand cat is considered a rare species. As a result, very little research has been conducted on this species. As with any species, they play an ecological role in their habitats. The sand cat preys on animals such as rodents, reptiles and birds and therefore the disappearance of this species may lead to an increase in the prey species. Because the sand cat is rare, it is probably not a species that is crucial to its predators such as owls, jackals and snakes. ("Sand Cat", 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The sand cat is part of the illegal pet trade. Researchers have sparked an interest in further studies of this species. ("Sand Cat", 2002)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Perhaps because of its relatively small numbers, this species has not had negative impacts upon humans. ("Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858", 1996)

Conservation Status

The sand cat is not well studied. Because they live in such vast, desert locations, it is hard to track the true number of individuals. This species is listed as Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) according to the IUCN. Their major threats are habitat loss and degradation. Human induced desertification can affect this desert dwelling species and their prey. Appendix II means that the species is not currently threatened by extinction, but could be if not monitored. They are listed as “near threatened” according to the IUCN World Conservation Union. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the subspecies Felis margarita scheffeli from Pakistan is listed as endangered. ("The CITES Appendices", 2004; Bunaian, et al., 1998; "Species Information Felis margarita", 2004)

Other Comments

There are four subspecies of sand cat, each found in different areas: Felis margarita margarita found in North Africa, Felis margarita harrisoni found in Saudia Arabia, Felis margarita thinobia found in Turkmenistan and Felis margarita scheffeli found in Pakistan. Hemmer et al. (1976) found differences between cats found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Felis m. margarita, of Africa, has a narrow skull, small carnassials, buffy-white colored paws and two to six rings on the tail. Felis m. harrisoni, from the Arabian Peninsula, has a broad skull, large carnassials, bright white paws and five to seven rings on the tail. (Garman, 1997; Goodman and Helmy, 1986)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Shanna Wheeler (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


IUCN World Conservation Union. 1996. "Sand Cat Felis margarita Locke 1858" (On-line). IUCN World Conservation Union. Accessed January 29, 2004 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/sandct01.htm.

International Society for Endangered Cats Canada. 2002. "Sand Cat" (On-line). International Society for Endangered Cats Canada. Accessed February 09, 2004 at http://www.wildcatconservation.org/cats/factsheets/africa/sand/index.shtml.

Saint Louis Zoo. 2003. "Sand Cat" (On-line). Saint Louis Zoo. Accessed February 03, 2004 at http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/mammals/carnivores/sandcat.htm.

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2004. "Species Information Felis margarita" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 02, 2004 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php?species=8541.

2004. "The CITES Appendices" (On-line). CITES. Accessed February 02, 2004 at http://www.cites.org/eng/append/index.shtml.

The Cat Survival Trust. 1996. "The Sand Cat Felis margarita Loche" (On-line). The Cat Survival Trust. Accessed January 29, 2004 at http://members.aol.com/cattrust/sand.htm.

Bunaian, F., S. Mashaqbeh, M. Yousef, A. Buduri, Z. Amr. 1998. A new record of the Sand Cat, Felis margarita, from Jordan. Zoology in the Middle East, 16: 5-7.

Cunningham, P. 2002. Status of the Sand Cat, Felis margarita, in the United Arab Emirates. Zoology in the Middle East, 25: 9-14.

Garman, A. 1997. "Sand Cat Felis margarita" (On-line). Big Cats Online. Accessed February 03, 2004 at http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman/sandcat.htm.

Goodman, S., I. Helmy. 1986. The sand cat Felis margarita Loche, 1858 in Egypt. Mammalia, volume 50, number 1: 120-123.