Teeny Facts About The Rusty Spotted Cat, The Smallest Feline In The World

It isn't a leopard cub. It isn't even the smaller leopard cat. It's the rusty-spotted cat — a species of wildcat that takes first place for the smallest feline in the world. This tiny cat species roams all across India and Sri Lanka, sharing its homeland with much bigger cats like tigers and leopards. Although these have always been considered rare cats — and they are reportedly less than 10,000 alive worldwide — scientists and conservationists believe the rusty-spotted cats may finally be making a slow comeback. One was recently even born in captivity at the Berlin Zoo — its first rusty-spotted cat birth in 168 years.

The adorable rusty-spotted cat look like a wild kitten, but these fully-grown felines pack just as much character and power into their tiny bodies as the big cats do. Read on to discover interesting facts about these charming cats, but be careful — they've been known to steal a heart or two.


  • They Are The Smallest Cats In The World


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    These rusty-spotted cats are TINY — around 200 times smaller than a lion. Its main rivals for size in the global wildcat family are the Kodkod of South America and the Black-Footed Cat of South Africa. All three are tiny, smaller than most domestic house cats, but the rusty-spotted cat has taken first place. It measures between 14 and 19 inches in length, and weighs anywhere from around two to four pounds, so it can fit in your palm... or under a leaf.

  • These Little Cats Are Very Tricky To Breed

    A domestic house cat's estrous cycle, or when they are "in heat," lasts for about 14 to 21 days. For the Rusty Spotted Cat, that time frame is a mere five days. Although they are easily domesticated, breeding these little cats in captivity has proved much more difficult. After a 67-day gestation period, they will give birth to one or two kittens, which is a much smaller litter than domestic cats. 

  • They Are Native To India And Sri Lanka

    They Are Native To India And Sri Lanka
    Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Rusty-spotted cats are native to the majority of India, as well as the island nation of Sri Lanka off its southern point in the Indian Ocean. On Sri Lanka, the cats can be found from sea level up to around 2,100 meters. In India, they are found all across the southern portion of the country as well as the central and far northern tip. According to a map from the IUCN, they have also spread into a small area of Nepal. They've been reported in caves and like to hunt either in grass or from branches, and are quite nimble. 

  • They Are Much Easier To Tame Than Other Wild Cats

    Other wildcats have proved very difficult to domesticate, but that isn't the case for the rusty-spotted cats. They have even been known to inter-breed with domestic cats.

    They are friendly and curious; many Western explorers in India kept them as pets and reportedly enjoyed their charming personalities. Swiss writer and naturalist Charles Albert Walter Guggisberg described his cherished rusty-spotted cat:

    "I had a kitten brought to me when very young in 1846, and it became quite tame, and was the delight and admiration of all who saw it. Its activity was quite marvelous and it was very playful and elegant in its motions."

  • They Aren't Afraid To Take On Animals Much Bigger Than Themselves

    As tiny as they are, rusty-spotted cats are still wildcats; very fierce and a little bit fearless. Although they usually feed on rodents and other small mammals, they have been known to attack much larger prey. 19th century naturalist T.C. Jerdon kept a rusty-spotted cat as a pet, and although it mainly hunted squirrels, it once went for something much bigger than itself, as he wrote: "When introduced to young gazelle, the cat immediately seized it by the nape of the neck, and had to be pulled off before it would let go."

  • They Are Listed As Near-Threatened On The IUCN Red List

    They Are Listed As Near-Threatened On The IUCN Red List
    Photo: UrLunkwill / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    On the IUCN Red List, "Near-Threatened" lies between "Least Concern" and "Vulnerable." The numbers of rusty-spotted cats are fairly new — researchers are using the data they have received in recent years, and will be working from those numbers to determine if their numbers are going up, going down, or staying the same. However, it is believed that the numbers of the cats are decreasing, due to encroaching farmland and development in their habitats as the population of India grows.