Behavior

The social organization and behavior of cats show remarkable similarity between the majority of species. Most are truly solitary, coming together only to mate. In the closed habitat favored by many species prey is usually dispersed and too small to share, so hunting alone is more efficient. Both males and females have home ranges, with those of males generally larger and often incorporating the range of one or more females. Adult males are usually territorial, defending at least part of their range, while females may or may not be territorial. The notable exception to the typical feline social organization is the lion, which has developed a unique clan-based society, based on close bonds between related females, and involving cooperative hunting, feeding and raising young. Tigers and leopards may also occasionally hunt together. Cheetahs also differ since males may hunt in groups.

Although cats do fight over territory, physical aggression is mostly avoided. Instead cats use scent-marking and calling to advertise their home range and specific whereabouts, enabling even animals with overlapping ranges to avoid running into one another. Cats may sharpen their claws on trees, leaving visual signs of their presence. Big cats also rake their hind feet in the earth as they spray backwards onto above ground objects to leave a scent trail as they patrol. Where fights do occur, usually in contests over an estrous female, they vary in intensity, but may be very serious and even deadly. Territorial fights usually involve a sudden fast attack without preliminary display.

Most cats are primarily nocturnal, but often show activity peaks around dusk and dawn, related to increased prey activity at these times. Their secretive, nocturnal behavior means many species have not been extensively studied in the wild.

Apart from cheetah, tigers, and lions, cats are good climbers, but most climb trees for rest and safety, rather than hunting. Cats have a famous ability to land on their feet, a result of a well-developed sense of equilibrium, important in arboreal species. In treeless environments, cats may den un-

Leopards sometimes take their prey into a tree to keep it safe from scavengers. (Illustration by Marguette Dongvillo)
White tigers are not a separate species, but rather albinos of the same species as the more common orange colored tiger. (Photo by K. Sandved. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

derground, appropriating the burrows of other animals. Most cats have an aversion to entering water, but some are strong swimmers. Tigers will chase prey into lakes, and some small cats catch fish.

Cats have a wide range of calls, include meowing, purring, panting, gasping, yowling, snorting, growling, and hissing. Small cats lack the roaring distance call of big cats, but some advertise estrous with loud wails. Close range communication involves not just vocalization, but sophisticated visual signals. Cats have a large variety of facial expressions and body language, enabling complex, often ritualized communication, which may avert dangerous physical confrontations between animals armed with sharp claws and teeth. The arched back seen in domestic and other small cats is a defensive threat posture.

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