Pallas’s’s cats are adorable, expressive wild cats from Central Asia. Their unusual appearance and facial expressions have brought them fame as stars of YouTube videos and internet memes. They are named after the German naturalist Peter Pallas that first discovered them in 1776, but they also have a scientific name – otocolobus manul. Otocolobus means “ugly-eared” in Greek and manul comes from its name in the Mongolian language.
We explore more cool facts about the funny looking Pallas’s cat to find out what makes them so distinctive.
1. Pallas’s cats aren’t fat, they’re fluffy
Pallas’s cats are actually about the same size as a domestic house cat – they have a stocky build and long, dense fur that makes them look bigger than they are. Their fur is longer on their bellies and tails to help keep them warm when they hunt on snow and frozen ground. They often wrap their tails around themselves to keep themselves warm.
In the winter, they shift from a striped ochre summer coat to a longer, denser gray winter coat that is more uniform in color. This helps them blend in to differing seasonal colors and improves their ability to ambush prey.
2. Pallas’s cats are ugly eared, but those ears have a purpose
Pallas’s cats have distinctive round ears that sit flat on their heads. Their ears are positioned low on their heads so they don’t reveal their position while hiding or hunting. Pallas’s cats have pupils unlike other cats – they contract into small circles instead of the usual vertical slits.
Researchers suggest that the Pallas’s cat’s pupil shape could mean that they are similar to larger feline predators that actively chase their prey, like lions and tigers. However, Pallas’s cats are small ambush hunters so it remains to be seen whether that suggestion holds true.
3. Pallas’s cats may be small but they are mighty
Much like larger cats, they are very aggressive. Pallas’s cat kittens start growling before they can open their eyes. They growl or yelp when they are excited, and they can also purr. During mating season, they make a sound that is like a cross between the bark of a small dog and the hoot of an owl.
4. Pallas’s cats live in caves and burrows
They often adopt marmot or fox burrows due to convenience and similarity in size. Pallas’s cats live in the snowy, rocky areas of Central Asia, as high as 13000 feet altitude. Because Pallas’s cats are slow runners, when they are chased by predators they opt to hide in rocky crevices or near boulders instead of escaping on foot. They also freeze and crouch low on the ground in response to danger, relying on their fur for camouflage against the ground.
Pallas’s cats are solitary and territorial, preferring to hide in caves and burrows far away from humans and each other. They are crepuscular animals, meaning that they are active at dawn and at dusk.
5. Pallas’s cats have an extremely short mating season
Pallas’s cats mate in the winter, from December to March. However, female Pallas’s cats are only in heat for up to 48 hours, one of the shortest mating windows for cats. The male Pallas’s cat will follow a female Pallas’s cat for a few days before they mate, after which a litter of up to eight kittens are born in April or May. These kittens stay with their mothers inside the den from birth, while the father goes off to mate with other females and does not take part in childcare. After two months, the kittens shed their fluffy baby coats and grow their adult coats.
When the Pallas’s cat kittens are about four months old, they follow their mother on hunting trips. At six months they leave their mother to go forth on their own as they have reached adult size and weight. Pallas’s cats become sexually mature in their first year of life. They grow up to 26 inches long and weigh about 10 pounds, living up to 12 years in captivity. Due to the harsh environment they live in, wild Pallas’s cats only live to a maximum of three years.
6. Pallas’s cats hunt pikas and voles by ambushing them
Pallas’s cats hunt by hiding in the surrounding vegetation and rocky terrain and stalking their prey. Sometimes, they wait at the burrow entrance of voles and pikas and pounce when they leave their dens. If the hole is shallow or small, Pallas’s cats will use their paws to dig out their prey. When they hunt, they move in short bursts, pausing to lie flat on the ground from time to time.
Pallas’s cats eat mostly pikas, but they also eat other small birds, rodents and insects. They usually hunt at night, going for prey that is usually active at dawn or dusk like gerbils, young marmots and chukar partridges.
7. Pallas’s cats avoid food competition
They share the same food sources with European badgers and foxes, so to prevent competition, they evolved to adopt seasonal hunting behaviour. In the winter while badgers are hibernating, they shift to eating hibernating or frozen insects to make up for food scarcity. The rest of the year, the main food source for badgers is insects and Pallas’s cats go back to hunting pikas, birds and rodents.
8. Pallas’s cats are near threatened according to the IUCN
Not only do Pallas’s cats have a hard time surviving due to their harsh habitat, they are also vulnerable to toxoplasmosis as kittens. Pallas’s cats have evolved to give birth to large litters due to the high infant mortality rate, where 7 of 10 kittens do not survive to adulthood. An estimated 50% of the adult survivors continue to live past their first year, the rest dying mostly in the winter months. Their natural predators are red foxes and large eagles.
Pallas’s cats suffer population decline due to poaching for their fur, habitat loss and prey loss. Their favored prey, pikas are being poisoned as they are considered pests by farmers.