DNA Study May Soon Identify New Wildcat Subspecies: Behold The “Corsican Cat-Fox”

It is not what it sounds, but the Corsican Cat Fox may well be the latest subspecies of wildcat to be recognized by science. Altthough the name suggests some sort or science fiction species inbreeding that is not the case.

Corsican Cat – foxes are a wildcat that superficially resembles a fox. They have a somewhat fox -like color and a bushy tail as a fox does, but they are all cat. They have been known to science since 1929 but their exact place in the cat lineage has been a mystery. Recent DNA studies are changing that.

Fox like cat? Unidentified French official with a Corsican Cat Fox. One was captured in a chicken coop in 2008, leading to genetic investigation. Pinterest photo

Local shepherds say they have a habit of attacking the udders of domestic livestock.

Cat genetics are an evolving area of study. Improved DNA sequencing has been clarifying exact relationships among the 37 or so species of cats.

The “Corsican cat-fox” is firmly among the felis family of cats. There are six species of felidae including the housecat (Felis catus) and the wildcat (Felis sylvestris). The other 30 or so species of wildcats are divided among a number of other families including Panthera (lions and tigers).

African Wildcat or Serval by Luigi
Wildcats bear a strong resemblance to domestic cats except perhaps for the unforgiving stare. Openverse image.Most strongly resemble domestic tabbies. Corsican cat foxes have a slight resemblance to foxes

Felis sylvestris is the ancestor of the common house cat and there are a number of other subspecies. F. sylvestris ranges from Scotland through most of Europe. F.s. lybica is the African wildcat and ranges through that continent. F.s. ornata is the Asian wildcat.

Genetic testing has shown that the cat-fox is slightly different from the known subspecies.

Although some scientists remain cautious Phys.org quoted the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB) as being more certain:

“Genetic sampling clearly distinguishes the ring-tailed Corsican cat-foxes from mainland forest felines and domestic cats, said the OFB in a statement.

While resembling house cats in some ways, the cat-fox earned its name from its length—measuring 90 centimeters (35 inches) from head to tail—and its distinct black-tipped, ringed tail.

Other distinguishing features include the stripes on the front legs, “very dark” hind legs, and a russet stomach. The dense, silky coat is a natural repellent for fleas, ticks and lice.” Links in original

Domestic cats left to their own become feral rapidly and kill millions of birds and small animals annually. Photo by Sean Valentine on Pexels.com

The OFB is the French agency responsible for maintaining biodiversity in France and its overseas territories. The agency seeks legislation, maintains protected areas, does necessary policing, educates the public and engages in science research. Corsica is a Mediterranean island under French control.

Wildcats are in general of least concern for conservationists. Cat-foxes, however, will probably become protected because they appear to be restricted to part of Corsica. Scottish wildcats are also threatened. One of the big threats is inter breeding with feral domestic cats which alters the genetic purity of the animals.

Meanwhile, house cats have reproduced dramatically and are and invasive species in many areas. Australia is plagued by millions of feral housecats eating defenseless endangered species. That nation has declared war on them. The Polish Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, has also declared feral cats a menace. That nation is asking cat owners to spay, neuter and keep cats indoors. Housecats have an incredible range of prey including everything from insects up to animals the size of rabbits. Birds, amphibians, fish and reptiles are all on the list. One estimate sets the prey base at 1,000 creatures.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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