Sand Cats

Today we celebrate Felis margarita.

No, not a cat named after a tequila cocktail, but a species named after the French general Jean Auguste Margueritte.

May I introduce the adorable Sand Cat, also sometimes dubbed the Sand Dune Cat.

Sand Kitty - photo by Payman Sazesh

This small, wild cat resides in the sandy and stony deserts of Africa and Western Asia. On average, these furry critters are 15-20 inches long, which is approximately the same average length of domestic cats. While it is smaller than most wild felines, it features relatively lengthy ears for its body size: 2-3 inches long. The ears are extremely pronounced in some individuals, but, like the photo above, they don’t always stick out like a sore non-thumb.

As with many cats, the sand cat is mostly nocturnal. During the day they reside in dens underground, emerging to hunt for rodents and birds at night. Though diminutive, the cats range an average of 3.4 miles per night on the prowl, but have been noted to move more than 6 miles in one session! Being a cat, these creatures are expert hunters. The Tuareg People of the Sahara Desert repute the sand cat as a killer even of venomous snakes!

Their ears are set lowly on the sides of their heads, which aids in detecting underground prey. Their foot pads have evolved to grow lengthy hair. This adaptation allows them to walk on the extremes of the desert, which can be remarkably hot or cold. Their fur is generally a sandy color, which comes in handy as camouflage. The cats also feature distinct green-yellow eyes.

Sand cat kitten at the Cincinnati Zoo - photo by Charles Barilleaux

With the exception of mating season, sand cats are solitary creatures. They live and hunt alone. In some ways, they resemble domestic cats transported to the desert. They brand territory and communicate via scent marking and urine spraying. They produce vocalizations similar to domestic cats, but also have calls that some people describe as closer to a “bark.”

The sand cat moves distinctly, with its belly almost always hitting the ground. Occasionally, on the prowl, it will leap during runs. Again, like many of their feline cousins, the sand cat is speedy, capable of hitting 25 miles per hour on the sprint!

The most interesting aspect of their lives, to me, however, ties into their homeland. These cats do not drink water! They have adapted to the arid conditions of the deserts by gathering all the liquid they need from their prey.

Because of the nature of their habitat and habits, these cats are tough to study. The locations where they live has, as is the case with many wild animals, been encroached upon by humans. That being said, some of their favorite locales are spots that humans don’t really want to expand. The sand cat can live without a natural water source, but humans certainly cannot. For a while, the sand cat was designated as an endangered species, but recent studies have downgraded the concern, as populations are above the minimum threshold for the designation.

This King of the Desert is a potent combination of ruthless survivor and adorable. If you need more evidence about the latter claim, just check out the video of the sand cat kittens below!

Further Reading and Exploration

Sand cat – Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Biology Institute

Sand cat – Cat Specialist Group

Sand Cat – International Society for Endangered Cats

Sand cat: the amazing animal that doesn’t need to drink water – ZME Science

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