Prionailurus bengalensisleopard cat

Geographic Range

Prionailurus bengalensis is one of the most widespread carnivore species in Asia, and can be found throughout most of southern Asia. Prionailurus bengalensis occupies eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, northern and coastal India, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, Nepal, Korea, Cambodia, parts of the Philippines, and Eastern China. Prionailurus bengalensis has been divided into a number of subspecies over its range that differ in coloration, pelage, body length, and reproductive cycles. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; Francis, 2008; Mukherjee, et al., 2010; Nowak, 2005; Watanabe, 2009)


Prionailurus bengalensis is found in tropical and temperate forests, coniferous forests, shrub land habitat, and grasslands. Its distribution is limited to areas with less than 10 cm of snow annually, and it is not found in steppe or arid climates. Prionailurus bengalensis has a fairly diverse diet and is able to find food in most habitats. It seems relatively impervious to human disturbance as populations in secondary growth and disturbed areas are stable and it is often found near agricultural fields and rural settlements. Prionailurus bengalensis is an exceptional swimmer, possibly explaining its distribution on islands, and is intolerant of temperatures above 35 C, possibly explaining its absence from central India. It is capable of living at higher elevations (i.e., 3000 m) with minimal snow fall. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Fernandez and De Guia, 2011; Mukherjee, et al., 2010; Watanabe, 2009)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3000 m
    0.00 to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

Leopard cats are the size of large housecats. On average, they weigh between 3 and 7 kg. In general, they have pale, tawny pelage with a white belly. Their body and tail are covered with rosettes and their tail is often ringed at the tip. Four longitudinal bands run from their foreheads to their necks. Their head to body length ranges from 44.5 to 107 cm, and their tail ranges from 23 to 44 cm. Leopard cats have a small head with a short muzzle and round ears. There are differences in coat length and color based on local environmental conditions. At more northern latitudes their fur is longer and paler, and they typically weigh more. Their coloration varies with habitat. For example, individuals in snowy habitats have lighter pelage than those in heavily forested habitats, which tend to have dark-tawny pelage. Sexual segregation has not ben documented in this species. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2004; Fernandez and De Guia, 2011; Nowak, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    3 to 7 kg
    6.61 to 15.42 lb
  • Range length
    44.5 to 1070 cm
    17.52 to 421.26 in


Little is known of the mating system of leopard cats. Male territories often overlap with those of multiple females, with whom the male tries to mate with. The mating system of the leopard cat has not been extensively studied, which may have to do with their low relative abundance and their solitary, nocturnal tendencies. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; Nowak, 2005)

Prionailurus bengalensis mates year round in southeastern Asia. In more northern latitude, it breeds in January through March and gives birth in May. Gestation lasts 65 to 72 days and can produce anywhere from 1 to 4 cubs per litter with an average of 2.5. If a litter is lost (e.g., predation), females can become pregnant again within 4 to 5 months. Cubs weigh between 75 and 120 g at birth and can open their eyes within 10 days after parturition. Cubs become sexually mature around 18 months old. ("Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; Nowak, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Prionailurus bengalensis can breed yearly depending on environmental conditions
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season varies with local conditions
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    62 to 75 days
  • Average time to independence
    8 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 (low) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 (low) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    18 months

Prionailurus bengalensis females are the primary caregivers, however, the mean duration of parental care is unknown. Cubs are born semi-altricial, furred and helpless with their eyes closed. They are raised in a hollow tree, rock crevice or burrow until they are ready to leave. Prionailurus bengalensis reaches sexual maturity at 18 months. Males may help care for young but the extent of paternal care is unknown. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Nowak, 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


In the wild, leopard cats have an average lifespan of about 4 years, and have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity. The lifespan of captive individuals varies greatly as individuals may die from the stress of transport. When leopard cats are released into non-native environments by breeders, they usually die not long after. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Nowak, 2005)


Leopard cats are small ambush predators that prefer forested habitat close to water. Although classified as nocturnal, they are occasionally sighted during the day. Their primary prey consists of small terrestrial vertebrates, but they are excellent swimmers and attack aquatic prey when they encounter it. Leopard cats are solitary and roam throughout their home ranges while hunting. They are difficult to observe as they are elusive and small. They are exceptional climbers, which allows them to occasionally prey upon birds and bats. However, they usually are found on the ground. They are not known to interact with people, often fleeing when encountered. However, leopard cats are frequently found on the outskirts of rural and agricultural areas. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; Cranbrook, 1991; Nowak, 2005; Watanabe, 2009)

  • Range territory size
    2.0 to 12.7 km^2
  • Average territory size
    3.95 km^2

Home Range

The home range of leopard cats varies greatly and is not well known. It can range from 2 km^2 to greater than 10 km^2 but typically falls between 2.5 and 5.4 km^2. Their ranges are often limited by the amount of available habitat and the degree of competition for resources. Their home range usually incorporates both a source of flowing water and forested areas. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Mukherjee, et al., 2010; Nowak, 2005)

Communication and Perception

Leopard cats use scat and urine to mark territories or communicate with conspecifics. Like most felids, they are ambush hunters and are generally very quiet. They rely on sight, sound, and small to hunt but are known to purr and cry, similar to domestic cats. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Nowak, 2005)

Food Habits

Prionailurus bengalensis is primarily carnivorous and preys on small terrestrial vertebrates such as rodents and lizards. They are also known to eat bats, snakes and insects on occasion. Prionailurus bengalensis usually eats mice and rats, with species varying by location. Large individuals are capable of catching larger prey, such as hares and young deer, and possibly fish and birds. Its broad distribution results in a highly variable diet throughout its geographic range. In the Philippines, P. bengalensis primarily preys upon house mice, Pacific rats, rice-field rats, and Tanezumi rats. ("Leopard Cat", 2004; Mukherjee, et al., 2010; Nowak, 2005; Watanabe, 2009)

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


Leopard cat are nocturnal and semi-arboreal, which likely helps reduce risk of predation. As ambush predators, they are extremely stealthy and they probably use their small size and cryptic coloration to avoid potential predators.Major predators include large cats and birds of prey, and they are hunted by humans for their meat and fur. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Nowak, 2005; Watanabe, 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Leopard cats are predators. They prey upon a number of small vertebrate species, such as rodents, possibly helping control pest populations. On islands, they are often the only primarily carnivorous species present. They are prey for larger carnivores and may be carriers of Feline Immunodeficiency virus, which can be transmitted to domestic cats. Parasites specific to this species have not been documented. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Hayama, et al., 2010; Nowak, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Leopard cats are excellent hunters and prey upon small vertebrate pests in rural and agricultural areas. By controlling local rodent populations, they likely help humans in a variety of different ways, including disease control and regulating the abundance of agricultural pests. Their fur and meat are popular in China and Japan, and the sale of leopard cat skins is likely impacting local populations. They are popular in the pet trade industry, as they are often bred with domestic cats to create bengal cats. Restrictions on their capture and trade are being increased. ("Leopard Cat foundation", 2009; "Leopard Cat", 2001; "Leopard Cat", 2004; "Professor Paul's Guide to Mammals", 2011; Chan, 2010; Sanderson, et al., 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Leopard cats are carriers of potentially fatal domestic cat diseases, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and reas with high proportions of infected domestic cats also have high proportions of infected leopard cats. Leopard cats are also considered poultry pests throughout their geographic range. (Hayama, et al., 2010)

Conservation Status

Leopard cats are widespread and abundant throughout their geographic range and are classified as a species of "least concern" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. However, several distinct island subspecies are experiencing significant population declines. Potential threats include commercial trade of their meat, skins, and live animals for the pet industry. Leopard cats are considered poultry pests and retaliatory killings are not uncommon. (Sanderson, et al., 2010)


Cailey Miller (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.

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.


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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


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


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

World Map

pet trade

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


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


an animal that mainly eats fish


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

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

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

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


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


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.


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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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Sanderson, J., S. Sunarto, A. Wilting, C. Driscoll, R. Lorica, J. Ross, A. Hearn, S. Mujkherjee, J. Khan, B. Habib, L. Grassman. 2008. "IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Prionailurus bengalensis. Accessed March 09, 2011 at

Watanabe, S. 2009. Factors Affecting the Distribution of the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) on East Asian Islands. Mammal Study, 34/4: 201-207.