6 Fascinating Facts About the Black-footed Cat: Why It’s Known as the Vampire Cat

Hangai Lilla

2024. July 9 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The black-footed cat, with its body length of approximately 35-52 cm, is Africa's smallest cat. You might recognize its name since we have written about it several times before; this fierce little predator has completely captivated our hearts. And it has done so with ease, not just because of its unbelievably cute appearance.


Let’s delve into what we know about the habits, behavior, and characteristics of the black-footed cat.

1.) Not Your Average Cat

According to nuclear DNA analysis, the black-footed cat is part of an evolutionary lineage that is estimated to have diverged from the common ancestor of all Felis species about 4.44 to 2.16 million years ago. This study, along with mitochondrial DNA analysis, suggests that the jungle cat was the first species to diverge, followed by the black-footed cat.

Interestingly, based on current information, the black-footed cat appears to have no subspecies, which is scientifically described as monotypic.

2.) Prey to Herding Dogs

Native to South Africa, the black-footed cat’s range is much more limited than that of other small cats in the region. It is often hunted for its fur and meat and frequently falls victim to herding dogs in the area. Consequently, since 2002, the species has been classified as vulnerable. It is estimated that only about 10,000 individuals currently live in the wild.

3.) Its Feet Aren’t Actually Black

The sandy-colored coat is adorned with black elongated spots and stripes on the back. Observing the picture, you might notice that while there are black markings on the backs of the legs, the animal cannot be called black-footed with any stretch of the imagination. The name comes from its paw pads, which are always very dark brown or black.

Another unique feature is that, among the Felis genus, the black-footed cat has significantly larger ear canals relative to its ear openings. This likely enhances its hearing, contributing to its exceptional hunting success. Unlike most cats, it is not adept at climbing due to its stocky body and short tail.

4.) One of the World’s Deadliest Hunters

Previously, we dedicated an entire article to its hunting success and style, which you can access here. It is known as one of the world’s deadliest hunters because it has a 60% success rate in killing and considers nearly anything that moves as prey. To put this into perspective, lions achieve a 30% success rate when hunting in groups and 17% alone. Domestic cats have a success rate of up to 32%.

The Felis nigripes captures more prey in a single night than a leopard does in six months, or precisely 10-14 prey items can be added to its imaginary tally by the end of the night. Its efficiency is due to its refined hearing and vision and the fact that it employs three different methods to catch prey depending on the circumstances. It has been observed several times waiting with closed eyes next to a rodent burrow, its ears constantly moving, and only opening its eyes when the sound suggests a chance to strike.

Due to its bravery and effectiveness, in parts of the South African Karoo (a dry, semi-desert area), it is referred to as “miershooptier,” which translates to “anthill tiger.” This name likely refers to its small size and habitat, as it often hides in hollow mounds created by termites during the day. According to a San legend, a black-footed cat can even kill a giraffe by severing its jugular vein.

Here’s how Jaira, a female black-footed cat, prowls:

5.) Vampire Cat

The name is well-deserved because, due to its lifestyle and habitat, it rarely needs to drink water. The black-footed cat derives the necessary moisture from its prey, primarily from their bodily fluids, which are high in blood content. It also exclusively hunts at night.

6.) They Whisper Among Themselves

The black-footed cat’s call is louder than that of other similarly sized cats, allowing them to communicate over greater distances during the mating season. This is also beneficial for the mother cat until her kittens separate from her at around four months old (though they remain in their mother’s territory for a while longer).

However, when two individuals are close to each other, they use quieter gurgling or purring sounds to communicate. When feeling threatened, they may hiss or even growl, much like our domestic pets.

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