Prionailurus viverrinusfishing cat

Geographic Range

Fishing cats, P. viverrinus are found in scattered areas of the Oriental Region. They inhabit the peninsular region of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, and Pakistan. (Phillips, 1984; Finn, 1929)


Fishing cats live primarily in wetland areas, both marshes and swamps. These cats can be found in heavily forested regions adjacent to rivers or near jungles. They can also be found in scrub areas, reed beds, and tidal creek areas. Fishing cats have been reported in Himalayan forests at an elevation of 1525 m. (~5000 ft.), they have also been found at elevations as high as 7000 ft. (~ 2100 m.) in the mountainous areas of Sri Lanka. (; Phillips, 1984; Prater, 1965)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • coastal
  • Range elevation
    2100 (high) m
    6889.76 (high) ft

Physical Description

Fishing cats are considered one of the largest of the lesser cats. Fishing cats are powerfully built with short limbs and a stocky body. They have a long head and a short tail that is roughly one-third the length of their body. Their fur is coarse and brownish gray in color with distinctive dark markings (Finn, 1929). The markings are a combination of both spots and stripes. These spots are arranged longitudinally across the body. Six to eight dark lines run from above the eyes between the ears over the crown to the nape of the neck. These lines gradually break up into shorter bars and spots on the shoulders. The fur on the underside of P. viverrinus is longer and spotted, and the tail is ringed. The paws are webbed, and the claws extend past the claw sheaths when retracted (Prater, S. 1971).

The short hair on the face is spotted, and the whiskers are short. The ears are short and round and the back side is black. When viewed from the front the ears have a distinctive white spot in the center (Phillips, 1984).

Fishing cats show strong sexual dimorphism. The size of P. viverrinus varies with gender, males are considerably larger. The measurements of P. viverrinus are as follow: length 658 mm to 857 mm, tail 254 mm to 280 mm, hind foot 134 mm to 158 mm, and the ears are 47 mm to 51 mm in length. Fishing cats stand over 350 mm high at shoulder level and weight 6.3 to 11.8 kgs depending on gender (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Phillips, 1984). (Finn, 1929; Phillips, 1984; Prater, 1965; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    6 to 12 kg
    13.22 to 26.43 lb
  • Range length
    658 to 857 mm
    25.91 to 33.74 in


There is little available information on reproduction in fishing cats.

Fishing cats breed once yearly, during the months of January and February. They have also been known to breed in June (Cat Specialist Group, 1996). The gestation period is 63 days, after which the female gives birth to 1 to 4 kittens. The average litter size is 2. The kittens generally weigh 100 to 173 grams at birth and will gain roughly 11 grams per day. On the 16th day their eyes open. The kittens take meat around the 53rd day and are weaned at 4 to 6 months of age. At 8 to 9 months the young reach adult size and are independent at 10 months (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). They probably reach sexual maturity soon after. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    Fishing cats breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Generally breed during January and February.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    63 to 70 days
  • Range weaning age
    4 to 6 months
  • Range time to independence
    10 (high) months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 to 10 months

Males in captivity have been observed helping females care for and rear the young. It is unclear whether fishing cats repeat this behavior in the wild.

The young are altricial and cared for by their mother they reach approximately 10 months of age, when they become independent (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Not much is known about the lifespan of fishing cats in the wild. Zoo records indicate they may live up to 12 years in captivity. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 (high) years


Fishing cats have been observed in the wild "fishing" at the edges of bodies of water. They appear to scoop their prey from the depths of the water and have also been observed playing with fish in shallow water (Breeden, 1989). Haque and Vijayan (1993) observed fishing cats entering the water and scooping out their prey during moonlit nights. During these observations they also witnessed fishing cats eating grass and gerbils.

In captivity fishing cats have been observed taking cow flesh to the water and dropping it in, retrieving it, and then eating it. This same washing behavior was mimicked when fishing cats were offered live quail (Iwaniuk A.N. et. al., 2001) (Breeden, 1989; Datye, 1993; Haque and Vijayan, 1993; Iwaniuk and Blankstein, 2001)

  • Range territory size
    4 to 22 km^2

Home Range

The home range for female fishing cats was found to be 4-8 km^2. The home range for a male was 22 km^2. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996) (Cat Specialist Group, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Female fishing cats call to attract males to initiate mating.

Food Habits

Fishing cats are best described as piscivores. Earliest records indicate that fishing cats predominantly feed on fish and shellfish. These early records also state that fishing cats have been known to eat dogs, sheep, and calves. At that time fishing cats were known to have taken human infants (Finn, 1929). In 1987 a fishing cat was observed eating a dead cow, so it is believed that they eat carrion (Haque, 1988). A study examining the food habits of P. viverrinus revealed that that they primarily feed on fish. A frequency analysis showed that out of 144 scats examined, 109 contained fish, 39 contained birds, 31 contained grass, 18 contained insects, 13 contained rodents, and 11 contained a mixture of snakes, lizards, mollusks, rabbits and cows (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). (Finn, 1929; Haque and Vijayan, 1993; Haque, 1988)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks


Fishing cats do not have any documented predators other than man.

Ecosystem Roles

Fishing cats feed primarily on fish (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). There is no information regarding the species of fish P. viverrinus feed on and whether they might be positively or negatively effecting the ecosystem by over feeding on certain species. More research needs to be conducted on the actual diet of fishing cats to better understand the effects of this species on the ecosystem. (Haque and Vijayan, 1993)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Biodiversity Conservation Prioritisation Project states that fishing cats are hunted for various aspects of trade, however it is unclear what parts of the fishing cat are valuable for trade (CAMP, 2004) . Fishing cats are also important for educational and research purposes. (; Conservation Assessment Management Plan, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Fishing cats negatively affect humans by consuming livestock. However, research has shown that livestock is not the fishing cats' primary source of food (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). In the early part of the century fishing cats were known to take human infants (Finn, 1929). (Finn, 1929; Haque and Vijayan, 1993)

Conservation Status

The major threat to fishing cats is the destruction of their habitat, primarily wetlands. For example, in Sri Lanka it has been documented that a variety of factors are responsible for the loss of habitat, including land reclamation, dumping, clearing of the natural vegetation, and pollution (Bambaradeniya, C., 2003).

In addition to the loss of habitat the population of the fishing cat is in danger due to destructive fishing practices that greatly reduce the fish stock. The fishing cat is also a victim of poaching. They are often hunted for food, medicine, or various body parts (BCPP, 1997). (; Conservation Assessment Management Plan, 2004)


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

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



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


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


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.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


an animal that mainly eats fish


having more than one female as a mate at one time


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).


an animal that mainly eats dead animals

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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"


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


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


Breeden, S. 1989. The Happy Fisher. BBC Wildlife Magazine, 7: 238-241.

Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus" (On-line). Accessed February 06, 2004 at

Conservation Assessment Management Plan, 2004. "Mammals of India, Report BCPP" (On-line). Accessed October 21, 2004 at

Datye, H. 1993. First record of the fishing cat Felis Viverrina Bennet in Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary and Chhotanagpur Plateau of Bihar. Journal of Bombay Natural Historical Society, 90: 90.

Finn, F. 1929. Sterndale's Mammalia of India. Bombay: Thacker, Spink and Co..

Haque, M., V. Vijayan. 1993. Food habits of the fishing cat Felis Viverrina in Keoladeo National park Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Journal of Bombay Natural Historical Society, 90: 498-500.

Haque, N. 1988. Scavenging habit of fishing cat (Felis Viverrina) in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. Journal of Bombay Natural History, 85(1): 183-184.

Iwaniuk, A., W. Blankstein. 2001. Observations of the feeding behaviour of fishing cats(Prionailurus viverrinus). Mammalia, 65 (1): 89-91.

Phillips, W. 1984. Manual of the Mammals of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka.

Prasad, S. 1992. An ecological reconnaissance of mangals in Krishna Estuary: Plea for conservation. Pp. 215-227 in K Singh, J Singh, eds. Tropical Ecosystems Ecology and Management. Dehli India: Wiley Eastern.

Prater, S. 1965. The Book of Indian Mammals. Bombay, India: Bombay Natural History Society.

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