Flat-headed Cat

Flat-headed Cat Illustration

FLAT-HEADED CAT (Prionailurus planiceps)

The flat-headed cat is one of the few wild cats perfectly adapted for an aquatic life with their webbed feet and specially adapted teeth, allowing them to hunt and catch fish successfully. They have even been observed watching their prey, like raccoons. Flat-headed cats are an endangered species with less than 2500 mature animals believed to exist in the world.

Difficulty: Extremely Difficult

Flat-headed Cat Description

Flat-headed cats are very small wild cats, with a short body and legs, and stubby tail. Females will weigh up to 2kg (4.4 lbs), and males will weigh up to 2.2kg (4.8 lbs), so they are very small cats indeed. As their name suggests, their head is rather flat, with closely set eyes that are quite large, helping them see during the night. They have small rounded ears on top of their reddish-brown head.  Their body fur is gray in color and is generally unmarked, except banding on the legs and belly. The cats have partially webbed feet and the claw sheaths are reduced, both adaptations that help them hunt, catch, and hold onto slippery aquatic prey.

Flat-headed Cat Distribution and Habitat

Flat-headed cats only occur in Borneo, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia. They live in coastal-scrub, mangrove, peat-swamp, secondary, selectively logged, and primary tropical rainforest. Within these forests, they are closely associated with water, generally no further than 3km (5 miles) away from a river or other water source. Most records of their occurrence comes from less than 100m (328 feet) above sea level.

Rivers with forest-covered banks are perfect habitat for the cats

Flat-headed Cat Feeding Biology

Very little is known about the the feeding ecology of flat-headed cats, but it is likely they mostly feed on aquatic or semi-aquatic prey in shallow water and along muddy banks. Captive animals have been shown to feel for prey underwater, similar to raccoons. They will even submerge their head if not their entire body to catch prey. Most of this hunting seems to occur at night, based on camera traps set by researchers.

Amphibians like this Giant river toad are prey items for the water dependent cats

Flat-headed Cat Reproduction and Social Organization

As with many of the small tropical wild cats, the social structure of flat-headed cats is virtually unknown. It appears that flat-headed cats are solitary, probably holding a territory. Densities are not known, but they probably occur at naturally low densities.

Flat-headed cat reproductive ecology is totally unknown from the wild. Based on captive animals, mothers have one or two kittens. It is unclear whether there is seasonality to mating but based on geographic location and lack of significant changes in weather, they probably mate at any time of year. Lifespan in the wild is unknown, but up to fourteen years in captivity.