The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is the only species named for its habits and diet, but several cat species will catch and eat fish when the opportunity arises.
The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is the only species named for its habits and diet, but several cat species will catch and eat fish when the opportunity arises.

Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is the only species named for its habits and diet, but several cat species will catch and eat fish when the opportunity arises. Leopard cats and fishing cats share several physical characteristics, including similarly spotted coats, long, narrow skulls, and small, rounded, black-backed ears with prominent white patches. The resemblance ends here.
Compared to a weightlifter and a ballet dancer, the powerful, stocky fishing cat and the slim, agile leopard cat look quite different. As opposed to the lithe, light-footed grace that one normally associates with small cats, the fishing cat appears powerful. Despite its short legs and deep chest, it has the appearance of a much larger cat. Compared to a large house cat, a fishing cat is about twice as big. Its claw tips protrude from its sheaths even when fully retracted, and the toes on the front feet are partially webbed.
Near the body, the short tail is unusually thick and muscular and accounts for about one-third of the length of the head and body. There are several types of marshes and swamps where the fishing cat lives, such as oxbow lakes, reed beds, mangroves, and tidal creeks. It can swim long distances, even underwater, and is very comfortable in the water.
Fishing cats take a wide variety of prey, most of which is aquatic, thanks to their powerful build and strong swimming ability. It is common to see fishing cats crouching on rocks along rivers, scooping out fish with their paws, or swimming underwater to catch ducks and coots. An Indian graduate student watched a cat hunt along a canal edge as it hunted.
Compared to a weightlifter and a ballet dancer, the powerful, stocky fishing cat and the slim, agile leopard cat look quite different.
Compared to a weightlifter and a ballet dancer, the powerful, stocky fishing cat and the slim, agile leopard cat look quite different.
A frog was pounced on and eaten, then the animal moved to a different spot, where it sat and focused intently on the scene. The cat made its way to the bank with its prize after jumping into the water and grabbing something under the surface. At an early age, fishing cat kittens take to the water in zoos. At four weeks, they start playing in their water bowl, and by three months, they spend a great deal of time in the water, playing fights, wrestling, and pouncing on imaginary fish.
They catch fish with their paws and submerge their heads in deeper water to seize them with their teeth. Despite the fact that fishing cats are not common in captivity, those who do keep them have discovered they are striking exhibits when provided with ponds and live fish. Many adults can live in the same enclosure because fishing cats are unusually tolerant of each other.
The fishing cat is one of the leopard cat lineages, and DNA studies show the fishing cat, leopard cat, and flat-headed cat are closely related species. At a time when sea levels were lower and the islands of Southeast Asia were connected, they appeared in Asia during the late Pleistocene. There is disagreement over the presence of the fishing cat in Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia, and Sumatra, where the flat-headed cat is found only.
The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is the only species named for its habits and diet, but several cat species will catch and eat fish when the opportunity arises.
The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is the only species named for its habits and diet, but several cat species will catch and eat fish when the opportunity arises. Photo credit: Wikimedia
There may not be enough room in the “fishing-cat niche” for two such specialized cats. Throughout much of Southeast Asia, fishing cats are found in scattered pockets of suitable habitat. In the last twenty years, the species seems to have been declining seriously due to large gaps in its distribution. Fishing cats have become extremely rare over the years, thanks to a new survey technique called camera trapping. Remotely triggered cameras regularly capture leopard cats, Asiatic golden cats, and even the elusive marbled cat in many parts of Southeast Asia, but fishing cats are rarely photographed.
This species faces serious threats due to the destruction of wetlands, the elimination of mangroves, and the development of wetlands for human settlements and shrimp farms. It is still common to trap fishing cats for their fur, which is comparatively valuable. In the future, this species will almost certainly suffer accelerated declines because of its large size, sought-after spotted pelt, and easy conversion to wetlands and grasslands.
Based on this, the cat specialist group recommended that fishing cats be removed from the endangered species list. The IUCN Red List classified them as endangered in 2008, making them one of the few felids in that category. Appendix 2 of CITES limits trade to countries with fishing cats, so international trade of the species is now controlled. A fishing cat’s head plunges underwater in search of prey, making them one of the most unusual cats.
It has been observed that they dive headfirst into the water, catching fish with their mouths. In the water, fishing cats are extremely adept at swimming and can even swim underwater for long distances. Besides its partially webbed feet and thick, muscular tail, the fishing cat has a long, narrow skull that makes it ideal for swimming and catching fish.
Other Facts:
Status: IUCN Red List—Endangered
Weight: 11–35 pounds (5–16 kg)
Head-to-body: 26–33 inches (65–85 cm)
Tail length: 9–12 inches (24–30 cm)
Litter size: 2–3 kittens
At four weeks, they start playing in their water bowl, and by three months they spend a great deal of time in the water, playing fights, wrestling, and pouncing on imaginary fish.
At four weeks, they start playing in their water bowl, and by three months they spend a great deal of time in the water, playing fights, wrestling, and pouncing on imaginary fish.