The interesting thing about Felis silvestris is that it lives and thrives in such diverse locations. Previously on Caturday, we've learned about the Asiatic Wildcat and the African Wildcat - while they and the European Wildcat are all of the same species, their locations and survival habits are different enough that they each get their own Caturdays.
While the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) looks very similar in size and coloring to domestic and feral cats (Felis domesticus), they are in fact genetically distinct, although interbreeding with domestic and feral cats is possible. During the Pleistocene, European Wildcats were very common all over the continent. As the ice began to melt, these cats specialized in surviving in dense forests and grasslands and were extirpated from England, Wales and Scandanavia. They can be found in Spain, Portugal, the Caucasus Mountains and Turkey as well (some scientists contend that the cats found in the Caucasus and Turkey are a separate subspecies - however, most authorities agree that they also belong to Felis silvestris silvestris).
The Scottish subpopulation of the European Wildcat was discovered in Cairngorms National Park. The number of true Wildcats was determined to be 35 after extensive study, which included camera traps, examination of road kills and eyewitness descriptions. The other cats observed in the park include Wildcat hybrids. The Scottish Wildcat Association is concerned that this small subpopulation could become extinct at any moment, due to interbreeding with domestic cats and the fact that European Wildcats are so easy to confuse with feral cats that people sometimes mistakenly shoot them as a form of population control. Unfortunately, those people are "controlling" the wrong population.
European Wildcats are more bulky and less lanky than their African cousins. The largest cats can be found in the Iberian Peninsula. These cats can grow up to 26 inches (60 cm) in body length, with a 13-inch (24 cm) tail. They can weigh up to 17 pounds. European Wildcats feed primarily on rabbits and small rodents, sometimes birds as well.
The key to distinguishing the European Wildcat from a domestic cat is their bulk, their thick coat, and non-tapered tail (uniform thickness throughout its length). They are nocturnal, but will become active during the day as long as there aren't any people around.