Why do some cats have a bald spot above their eyes?

Hangai Lilla

2024. April 16 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Many cats have thinning hair above the eyes in the eyebrow region. In some animals, the area looks almost bald from some angles. Have you ever wondered why this might be?


In our next article, we’ll find out what the bald spot above a cat’s eye is.

Even this cat with a thick fur can still show the sparse area on the eyebrow region

Even the bald spot in cats remains mysterious

Most cats have fur consisting of two layers: a coarser outer layer and a finer underlayer, which they shed in summer. Apart from a few exceptions, this double coat covers the entire body of the cat. However, the area around the ears is a special case. It’s perfectly normal for our pets to have less dense fur on their heads, but it’s still not entirely clear to experts why this is the case. “There must be some evolutionary, adaptive reason why they are that way. And my theory would be that it has to do with sound” – explained Judith Stella, an animal welfare scientist at Purdue University, to Live Science.

However, this special attribute is not limited to domestic cats. It’s common in smaller cat species such as the African-Asian wildcat, the ocelot, or lynxes. However, large cats belonging to the Panthera genus, such as tigers, lions, or jaguars, cannot boast of this feature. For Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University, the topic raises a classic question: “How do we explain the distribution of traits among species? The presence of bald spots in small cats suggests that this may be the result of natural selection, that bald spots are advantageous for small cats, but not for larger ones.

Special advantage

“Cats can hear ultrasonic sounds, and rodents chirp in this auditory range. Perhaps the absence of hair in this area helps focus the sound waves into the ear, or determine the direction of the sound” – Judith Stella further speculated.

It’s known that small cats hunt a variety of prey, from birds to snakes, but studies have shown that despite this, a large part of their diet consists of rodents. Thus, these animals need all kinds of tools for their detection. For large prey such as antelope or wild boar, hunted by big cats, the detection of ultrasonic frequencies is less important for survival. Perhaps this is why they haven’t developed the same bald spot.

The problem with studying such hypotheses of evolutionary adaptation is that it’s easy to come up with a plausible explanation, but much harder to actually test this hypothesis. How would we test this hypothesis? Perhaps by detailed acoustic analysis of cat hearing. Or finding cats with different extents of bald patches [to] compare their ability to detect rodents or their hunting success. Or find some way to eliminate the bald patch to see if it affects hunting success. [I’m] not sure how you’d do this [and] I am not aware of anyone who has studied these bald patches” Jonathan Losos touched on the essence.

The margay is one of the species of Felidae

We’re also inspired

Currently, this is just a theory, but the presence of this feature in the Felinae subfamily strongly suggests a special adaptive advantage. However, Losos warned against drawing hasty conclusions without more concrete evidence. “It’s always possible that a trait will evolve for one reason and only incidentally be beneficial for another. Perhaps bald spots are favored in mate selection in small species for whatever reason, but then once they evolved by sexual selection, they turned out to be useful for hunting.

It’s great that Professor Losos mentioned this because as laymen, we had a strong intuition that it might be related to the pheromone glands of cats, which are also found on our pets’ faces in this area on both sides. When they rub, they also spread pheromones from the temporal glands onto objects or people, indicating that it’s a safe thing. We can’t wait to learn more about the little bald spot in the future.

cat fur cat hearing cat pheromone science why

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