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Prionailurus planiceps, Sumatran Cat, Flathead


Sumatran or flat-headed cat - Felis planiceps - lives in Thailand, on the peninsula of Malaysia, in Indonesia, on Sumatra and Borneo. Body length 53-81 cm, weight 1.8-2.7 kg. The head is broad, flat with small ears set low on the sides. Eyes are large. Legs are short; tail is short and fluffy. The fur is thick and soft, the color is reddish brown, the chest and abdomen are white. Brown spots on sides. From the nose to the forehead are two white stripes. The fur is thick and soft, reddish-brown, the belly is painted white. Brown spots appear on the stomach and sides. From the nose to the forehead are two white stripes. Unlike other cats, they do not have the ability to pull the claws into the paw. Teeth also have a special structure, which are all pointed in shape, like fangs. All this taken together helps to fish successfully.

This species feeds on fish, frogs and other aquatic animals. Seen in raids on poultry. They tear the earth in search of edible roots, and also eat fruit. After a 56-day pregnancy, 1-4 kittens are born in the female. This species of cats is rare, their total number is unknown. Listed in Appendix I CITES.


Distribution Flat-headed cats are limited to low-lying tropical forests in southern Thailand, the peninsula of Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei Darussalam, Kalimantan and Sumatra. They are mainly found in freshwater habitats, in coastal and low-lying areas. More common in less than 3 km (1.9 miles) from the water.


A flat-headed cat is distinguished by a skull that runs along the nose to the edge of the muzzle, whose sides are transversely stretched. The body is slim and the limbs are thin and elongated. The head itself is more elongated and cylindrical than in a domestic cat. The distance between the eyes and ears is relatively large. The cylindrical shape and transverse compression of the head contrast about unusually long teeth. Fangs are almost as long.

Thick fur, reddish-brown color on the upper part of the head, dark brown on the body, and mottled white on the lower abdomen. The face is lighter than the body, and the muzzle and chin are white. Two whitish stripes are located both on the side of the nose between the eyes. Ears are rounded. The eyes are unusually far ahead and close to each other, compared to other cats, giving cats better stereoscopic vision. The teeth are adapted to grip on slippery prey, and the jaws are relatively powerful. These features help a cat's flat-headed head to catch and retain aquatic prey, to which it is at least well adapted as a fishing cat. The legs are quite short. The claws are retractable, but the shell coating is so reduced in size that about two-thirds of the claws remain convex.

The anterior superior premolars are larger and sharper than other cats. The interdigital membranes on the paws help the cat get a better grip in the dense vegetation and water, and even more pronounced on this cat than those on the paws of a fishing cat.


The flat-headed cat is supposedly single and likely maintains ranges of its territory. In captivity, both females and males mark with urine, walking forward, leaving a mark on the ground. Flat-headed cats are nocturnal, but the adult female is twilight and most active between 8:00 to 11:30 and from 18:00 to 22:00 hours.

The sounds made by a flat-headed cat kitten resembled a domestic cat. Adult vocal repertoire has not been fully analyzed, but they purr.

Additional Information:

The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is a small wild cat unevenly distributed in the Thai Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra. Since 2008, it has been listed as endangered by IUCN due to the destruction of wetlands in their habitat. There is a suspicion that the effective population size may be less than 2500 adults, without a subpopulation with an effective population size of more than 250 adults.

Like some other small cats, it was originally placed in the genus Felis, but is now considered one of the five species in Prionailurus.


Sumatran cat has a flat head, and a small body size, like a domestic cat. The tail is short, ranging from a quarter to a third of the body length, taking into account the head. Small, rounded ears are wide apart and are located below the top of the skull. The coat is elongated, thick and soft. The color of the upper part of the head is reddish brown, the back is dark brown, and the lower body is light. Individual hairs are white or gray in color, which gives them the appearance of gray hair. The muzzle is paler than the rest of the body, the chin and chest are white. Their lower eyelids and the inside of each eye are white but do not form a complete ring. Two dark stripes extend from the eyes to the upper part of the head, and a second pair of lines extend beneath the lower eyelids of the eyes, and extend to the ears. The lower vibrissae are white, while the upper ones are black at the base and light at the ends. The head is noticeably elongated and flattened in relation to other cats. The coat between the ears is quite short, which, combined with the low position of the ears, gives the cat a flat-headed appearance. The paws are small and the legs are long and narrow. The claws, like that of a fishing cat and cheetah, are not fully retracted. The nasal bones are short and narrow, due to which, the eyes are closer to each other than other cats. They have almost parallel rows of teeth. The first and second small molars are well developed, which allows you to capture slippery prey with the front of the mouth. The sagittal crest is well developed and the zygomatic arches are strong, which indicates great strength. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced, males are slightly larger than females.

The length of the head and body of males varies from 42-50 cm, the length of the tail is from 13 to 20 cm, and the weight is from 1.5 to 2.75 kg.

The length of the head and body of females ranges from 33 to 37 cm, the length of the tail is from 15 to 17 cm, and the average weight is 1.5 kg.


Sumatran cats occupy tropical lowland forests and freshwater habitats. Some individuals are found in primary and secondary forests, along rivers, streams, as well as in flooded areas. In Malaysia, they also live on palm plantations, and in Sumatra, they were seen in the middle lowland forests.


There is only limited information on the general reproductive behavior of Sumatran cats. Pregnancy lasts about 56 days, however, this estimate was based on one individual. Detailed information is available on other, more common species of the genus. Prionailurus . For example, cat fishers do not have a strictly fixed breeding season, although mating is the most common between January and February. Bengal cats mate at any time of the year in the southern part of their range, where they intersect with a Sumatran species. Both closely related species in one litter have 2-4 kittens after a gestational period of 60-70 days. Cubs of fishing cats are weaned from their mother’s milk at 6 months, and puberty occurs at 1.3 years. Cubs of a dwarf cat are weaned from milk in 1 month, and become sexually mature in 1.6 years.


According to historical reports, Sumatran cats are nocturnal. Nevertheless, it was noted that the female in captivity preferred twilight time. In captivity, individuals love water and play in puddles or pools for several hours. It is assumed that they are solitary animals, like other cats.

Communication and perception

Close eye position maximizes binocular vision and makes cats good hunters. Like other cats, Sumatran cats probably support territories using olfactory markings. In captivity, males and females spray urine on trees or bushes, in an unusual way for other cats. They lift their tails, squat on their hind legs, and go forward, leaving behind a trace of urine. Sumatran cats' calls are often compared to a vibration similar to the sound from the teeth of a comb, although these vocalizations also resemble domestic cats. Adults purr and produce other vocalizations in the near radius. However, the sounds of Sumatran cats have yet to be thoroughly investigated.


Sumatran cats were spotted on silty shores along rivers, where they probably hunted frogs, fish, or crustaceans. Analysis of the contents of the stomachs shows that the bulk of the diet is fish. These cats can immerse their heads up to 12 centimeters under water. Observation of individuals living in captivity showed that they hunted live frogs and ignored sparrows placed in their cages. When they were offered food, they pounced on it with a growl, and always carried it no less than 2 meters from the place where they received it - this behavior allows keeping the fish and frogs from escaping back into the water. In addition, in captivity, swimming along the bottom of the pool, adult animals widely spread their forepaws, as well as raccoons. The mouse in the bathroom evokes in captive cats greater hunting instincts than mice on land, they climb into the water, or stand nearby and try to catch the mouse with their mouth or paws. In captivity, adult cats kill rats and mice with a bite behind the back of their head.

Role in the ecosystem

Since Sumatran cats are so rare, their role as predators probably has little effect on the dynamics of populations of prey species. Their behavioral and morphological adaptations, as well as the places they occupy, make them look like semi-aquatic mustelids, which is unique among cats. On these cats, flat and round worms also live.