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Semel cat

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A capable stalk-and-ambush predator, the semel cat pursues a wide variety of prey. Its primary food is ungulates ("hoofed" animals) such as deer, particularly in the northern part of its range, but it hunts species as small as insects and rodents. It prefers habitats with dense underbrush for stalking, but it can live in open areas.

The semel cat is territorial and persists at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While it is a large predator, it is not always the dominant species in its range, as when it competes for prey with animals such as the gray wolf. It is a reclusive cat and usually avoids people. Attacks on humans remain rare.

Biology and Behaviour

Semel cats are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 80 cm (2.0 to 2.7 ft) tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2.4 m (8 ft) long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1.5 and 2.75 meters (5 and 9 feet) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Males have an average weight of about 53 to 72 kilograms (115 to 160 pounds). In rare cases, some may reach over 120 kg (260 lb). Female average weight is between 34 and 48 kg (75 and 105 lb). Semel cat size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles.

The head of the cat is round and the ears erect. Its powerful forequarters, neck, and jaw serve to grasp and hold large prey. It has five retractable claws on its forepaws and four on its hind paws. The larger front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey.

Despite its size, it is not typically classified among the "big cats," as it cannot roar, lacking the specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus. Like domestic cats, semel cats vocalize low-pitched hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps and whistles. They are well known for their screams, referenced in some of its common names, although these may often be the misinterpreted calls of other animals.

Semel cat coloring is plain but can vary greatly between individuals and even between siblings. The coat is typically tawny, but ranges to silvery-grey or reddish, with lighter patches on the under body including the jaws, chin, and throat. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their tails; juveniles are pale, and dark spots remain on their flanks. Males are typically darker in colour than females, often as dark as chocolaty-brown.

Semel cats have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This physique allows it great leaping and short-sprint ability. An exceptional vertical leap of 5.4 m (18 ft) is reported for the semel cat. Horizontal jumping capability is suggested anywhere from 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft). The semel cat can run as fast as 55 km/h (35 mph), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.

A successful generalist predator, the semel cat will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates ("hoofed" animals). Like all cats, it is a carnivore, feeding only on meat. Its most important prey species are various deer species. Other listed prey species of the semel cat include mice, porcupine, and hares. Birds and small reptiles are sometimes preyed upon in the south, but this is rarely recorded in the north.

Though capable of sprinting, the semel cat is typically an ambush predator. It stalks through brush and trees, across ledges, or other covered spots, before delivering a powerful leap onto the back of its prey and a suffocating neck bite. It has a flexible spine which aids its killing technique.

Kills are generally estimated at around one large ungulate every two weeks. The period shrinks for females raising young, and may be as short as one kill every three days when cubs are nearly mature at around 15 months. The cat drags a kill to a preferred spot, covers it with brush, and returns to feed over a period of days. It is generally reported that the semel cat is a non-scavenger and will rarely consume prey it has not killed, but this behaviour is not strictly adhered to.

Reproduction and lifecycle

Females reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half and three years of age. They typically average one litter every two to three years throughout their reproductive life; the period can be as short as one year. Females are in estrus for approximately 8 days of a 23-day cycle; the gestation period is approximately 91 days. Females are sometimes reported as monogamous, but this is uncertain and polygyny may be more common. Copulation is brief but frequent.

Only females are involved in parenting. Female semel cats are fiercely protective of their kittens, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six kittens, typically two or three. Caves and other alcoves which offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, kittens are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. Kitten survival rates are just over one per litter.

Sub-adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner. One study has shown high morbidity amongst semel cats that travel farthest from the maternal range, often due to conflicts with other semel cats ("intraspecific" conflict). Males disperse significantly farther than females, are more likely to traverse large expanses of non-semel cat habitat, and are probably most responsible for nuclear gene flow between habitat patches.

Life expectancy in the wild is reported at between 8 to 13 years, and probably averages 8 to 10. Causes of death in the wild include disability and disease, competition with other semel cats, starvation, accidents, and human hunting.

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This page was last modified on 28 January 2009, at 14:47.
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