By Julia Williams
The sand cat might just be the cutest of all wild cats, and it’s also one of the smallest. Don’t let that sweet face and tiny body fool you, though – this desert wild cat is tough as nails! Well yeah…it would have to be, to survive the harsh conditions where it lives.
Found in both sandy and stony deserts, the habitat of the sand cat (Felis margarita) ranges from North Africa’s Sahara Desert through the Middle East into Central Asia. Although “sand cat” might seem to be a nickname related to its habitat, it is the cat’s actual name. Also called the sand dune cat, these plucky felines have adapted to the extreme temperatures and dry conditions in the desert. Their feet are thickly padded with fur to insulate them from the hot sand. They have large ears which help them hear their prey, and they are excellent hunters – a small rodent like a mouse does not stand a chance against a sand cat!
This hardy feline can survive in temperatures ranging from 23° F to 126° F. During extreme heat, the sand cat stays cool by retreating to an underground burrow. They use abandoned fox or porcupine burrows, but are also good at digging and will enlarge the small burrows of gerbils or other rodents.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that sand cats do not need to drink a lot of water. Although they do drink water when it’s available, if necessary they can get the moisture they need from their prey. This allows them to live comfortably in areas that are far from a water source.