An Introduction To The Smallest Cat In The World

head and shoulders of rusty-spotte cat

Have you ever heard people say that it’s too bad kittens grow up to be cats? Well, perhaps they might like a cat that never gets big? The smallest cat in the world can fill this description; however. this little cat might not prove a satisfactory choice.

Meet Prionailurus rubiginosus, the rusty-spotted cat, a ferocious little cat who wins the title, though he runs in close competition with the black-footed cat and the kodkod, other small members of the cat family. The rusty-spotted cat can fit in the palm of your hand

In Sri Lanka, these cats go by the name of “Kola Diviya” or “Handun Diviya.” 

What Is The Actual Size Of This Cat?

The little rusty-spotted feline is about half the size of a normal house cat. These small animals weigh between two and four pounds, fully grown. Their body length ranges from about a foot to 20 inches, while their tails are anywhere from six inches to a foot long.

Though small in size, this cat makes up for it by being fierce hunters. A nineteenth-century naturalist, T.C. Jordan, owned one as a pet, and said it would hunt tree squirrels in the rafters of his house.

Where Would You Find This Cat?

Sri Lanka postage stamp of rusty-spotted cat
Rusty Spotted Cat Stamp

For a time, observers believed this species of cat lived only in India and Sri Lanka. However, photo evidence shows that these rusty-spotted cats have also been observed in Nepal.

Though at one time these cats were thought to inhabit only moist forests, their habitat actually proves much larger. They might find a home in dry and bamboo forests, wooded grasslands, arid scrublands, and rocky hill slopes.

They might take over an abandoned house, most likely hunting for rats and mice.

What Does This Cat Look Like?

This cat has earned a description from many of looking like a smaller version of a leopard, with short legs and rounded, smaller ears. Its coat has a reddish-gray color, with many rusty-brown spots, giving it the name of rusty-spotted cat.

Two dark streaks run along each cheek, and four stripes extend above the cat’s eyes. These run back between the ears and along the shoulders, finally tapering into faint rusty-brown spots and blotches. The throat, chest and belly are white, with large black spots and bars.

Rusty-spotted cat, seated

The feet, also unique, have black soles, and its bushy tail is generally about 6 to 12 inches long.

Reproductive Information

The female of the species remains in heat for only five days, and mating is quite brief. Since the female becomes vulnerable to predators during this period, the cause of this short mating process may be to help avoid large predators.

The mother cat has prepared a den in a secluded spot. After a gestation period of 65 to 70 days, she gives birth to one or two kittens. At birth these kittens weigh only 60 to 77 grams, or 2.1 to 2.7 ounces. The babies have markings of rows of black spots.

The kittens first sleep on or near their mother, going to the spot she selects for resting after an active period. As the kittens get a bit older, they sleep alone on high ledges.

The kiittens are sexually mature at around 68 weeks. By this time they have developed the characteristic adult coat pattern, with rusty blotches. Though these cats have lived for twelve years in captivity, their lifespan in the wild is unknown.

Though it is thought that these cats may be polygynous, males in zoos have been observed as having permission to stay with mates after kittens are born. In the West Berlin Zoo, keepers recorded that a male brought meat to his kittens and protected them from zoo keepers.

This behavior suggests that they have a monogamous mating system. Born in their secluded den, the kittens first begin to venture out of the den at around 28 to 32 days. By day 35 to 42, the kittens can climb down from steep branches, head-first, a trait not many cats can replicate.

How Does This Cat Behave?

Small in size, this cat remains active and agile. Don’t mess with this one — the cat is extremely fierce. It is primarily noctournal; it rests in dense cover in the daytime. It feeds on small mammals, birds, and possibly on insects, lizards, and frogs. It’s definitely a carnivore.

rusty-spotted cat on log

Though it most likely hunts on the ground, it has been know to jump from a big tree branch directly on its prey. Because of its superb climbing ability, it can easily escape predators by climbing high in a tree.

What Are The Threats To This Cat?

This cat species does not rate high at all in adaptability. Serious problems for the rusty-spotted cat include habitat loss and the spread of cultivation. It seems strange that such a small animal should be hunted for its pelt, but it has happened, partly because it looks like a baby leopard.

It has, however, become fully protected over most of its range, with hunting and trade banned in both India and Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, the cat is listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

About 40 to 50 of these cats live in captivity, and about 10,000 of them still exist in the willd. These small numbrs have put it on the VU list. At present a focus exists to help protect the cat’s natural habitat, besides adding more protected space for development.

Can You Own A Rusty-Spotted Cat?

Of course, its small size could make it seem feasible that there’s such a possiblity. However, the experts tell us, no. Though cute and intelligent, they do not become manageable because they are small. In fact, the cat could create dangerous situations in your home.

Besides, depending on where you live, it may be illegal to own one, or the paperwork may become unmanageable because it can take a lot of red tape. Mostly, these cats when domesticated are only owned by zoos.

Protection Is Important For This Species

It is great that this cat now has a “vulnerable” classification, as that may encourage folks to donate to the cause of helping them survive. Perhaps you can find an organization or zoo who would like funding additions. Please notify this site if you find a suitable place to donate.

References I used for this post:

Leave a Comment