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Asian leopard cat (Felis bengalensis)

© Emmanuel Keller
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The ancestry of the Bengal cat derives from a spotted domestic cat and a small wild spotted feline called the Asian leopard cat (ALC) or Felis bengalensis.

Asian leopard cat (Felis bengalensis)

The Bengal’s wild progenitor

Though many people call them “Asian Leopard Cats” (ALC), technically, the exact species name is “Leopard Cat” prionailurus bengalensis. These little spotted felines come in many subspecies that range from 3 to 20 pounds in size. Being tiny animals living at the bottom of the food chain, they are very shy, nocturnal and afraid of humans who have been hunting them for centuries.

Distribution and habitat
Leopard cats have different subspecies that are indigenous to a large part of southern Asia. They can be found in agriculturally used areas, deep jungles and forested habitats from southern India eastward through Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Korea and into Russia’s Far East. ALCs can also be found on southern islands such as Sumatra, Borneo, Bali, Java, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Sunda islands of Indonesia.

Asian leopard cat habitat map
Map of the Asian leopard cat’s habitat

Hunting and diet
Leopard Cat - Prionailurus BengalensisThey are known to eat mostly small birds, rodents, reptiles, fish and insects in the wild. Some of them occasionally venture into farmyards to prey on domestic chickens. When ALCs attack and kill their victims, they go straight in for the kill rather than playing with their prey as if they were toys. Hunting takes place at night and their climbing skills allow them to spend the days resting in tree hollows or caves.

Characteristics and morphology
The general build of an Asian Leopard Cat is somewhat similar to a house cat, but their torso is long and substantial and their legs and body are much longer (25 to 32 inches from head to tail) than normal domestic cats. Hind legs are slightly longer than the forelegs. The tail is thick and medium in length (11 to 14 inches) with rounded tip. Paws are large with prominent knuckles.

Colors and markings

  • Head: Four vertical black stripes run from the forehead or inner eye corners to the back of the neck, breaking up into short irregular rows of dark markings and elongated spots on the neck and shoulders, although sometimes one stripe runs the length of the entire body. Two narrow black cheek stripes run from the outer eye corners, enclosing a white area on the cheek. The back of their ears are black with the exception of a white triangular shaped spot.
  • Coat: It’s primarily the spotted coat that suggests “leopard”. ALCs exhibit well-defined dark spots spread all over their body that can be solid or rosetted and sometimes marbled. The base coat varies in color depending on the cat’s geological areas of origin, and ranges from different shades of tan (beige to golden), gray or tawny brown. The chin, throat, belly, and interior parts of the legs are white with black spots.
  • Pads: The color of their toe pads varies from dark purple to dark brown. The carpal pads, found on the forelegs, are very light pink.
  • Tail: All asian leopard cats have a spotted or ringed tail whose tip is black.

Asian Leopard Cat & Domestic Bengal Cat

The history of the Bengal breed started in 1963 when Jean Sugden Mill first documented hybridization between Felis bengalensis and Felis catus (domestic house cat).

The Felis Bengalensis was the perfect candidate to give birth to this exotic breed of wild-looking house pet known as the Bengal cat.

Asian Leopard in the wild

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