Saturday, February 12, 2011

Creature Feature: Clouded Leopard.

Said it before and will say it again: "Middle felids" need more love. To most people, there are only small, domestic cats and giant wildcats like lions and tigers. What do you think happened to all the cats in between, guys? Did they disappear thanks to some natural phenomenon that did not play to one extreme or the other?

No. People just do not think that mid-sized cats can be awesome. Here's a Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) to prove them wrong:

Clouded leopards live in Southeast Asia, from the Himalayas to China to Indonesia. They, like all cats, are carnivores; clouded leopards may be big and bad enough to take down large mammals. Its exact diet is largely speculation due to the clouded leopard's very small wild population size. It is estimated that there are no more than 1,000 adult cats in one area. Deforestation is not helping.

 In many ways, the Clouded Leopard is the mid-sized cat.When scientists first saw this cat's skeleton, they could not tell whether they were looking at a large or small felid. They do not purr like small cats, but can meow, hiss, growl, and make a number of other noises. This was all learned from captive specimens.

(Turn off the Thai music if you must.)

Clouded Leopards have several other strange things about them that neither big nor small cats have in spades. They have the largest canine teeth (proportionately) of any felid; picture a tiger's teeth on a little kitty like that and one wonders if it will eventually evolve into a stealthy, arboreal Smilodon.

Show me your teeth!

As if saber-teeth were not enough, clouded leopards are the best climbers of the feline world. Their ankles rotate so that the animal can climb upside-down on tree braches and down tree trunks headfirst like a squirrel. That long tail helps it balance. All of these adaptations put together lead researchers to believe that the Clouded Leopard, besides hunting arboreal prey, might be able to drop down upon unsuspecting ungulates. Again, nobody's sure.

If you want to support conservation of the clouded leopard and other big cats, take a snap of your own cat. Send it and five dollars to National Geographic's Little Kitties for Big Cats fundraiser and your furry friend may become cat of the week. Share the love! 

Tomorrow: Jaws just got a whole new meaning.

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