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The Caracal: Six Remarkable Adaptations and General Facts

Thomas is an avid student of evolutionary history with a deep fondness for the natural world.

The Caracal's Evolutionary Success

The caracal is a wild mammal that lives in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and northwestern India. The anatomical adaptations that give the caracal its extraordinary beauty and athleticism are the result of 35 million years of felidae evolution.

Despite its tufted ears inciting comparisons with the lynx, the caracal's closest genetic relatives are the serval and the African golden cat, which do not have ear tufts. The caracal became a separate species when it diverged from the African golden cat about 2 million years ago, and these species (plus the serval) diverged from other small cats, such as the lynx and puma, about 9.4 million years ago.

The caracal's adaptations and the variety of its prey serve it in a diverse range of habitats and territory sizes, meaning it is listed as an animal of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Six of these adaptations are explained in detail below, and these are followed by some general facts about this remarkable cat.

Despite its appealing facial features, the caracal has a larger, powerful body.

Despite its appealing facial features, the caracal has a larger, powerful body.

1. Caracal Ear Tufts

The caracal has black ear tufts that can grow up to 10 cm long (but are typically about 5 cm). Lynx also have these tufts, and the caracal is often called the desert lynx for this reason.

The tufts focus sound into the caracal's ears, improving its ability to pinpoint the position of its prey. For this purpose, the ears are highly flexible, with 29 muscles dedicated to their movement, and caracals may communicate with each other by repetitively moving their head and ears.

The tufts also create very little noise when the caracal brushes against branches and shrubbery, notifying the cat of the obstacle while keeping prey oblivious. This allows them to stalk to within 5 meters (16 feet) of their prey.

The remarkable ear tufts of the caracal.

The remarkable ear tufts of the caracal.

2. The Caracal's Hind Legs

These wonders of evolution have extremely powerful hind legs, and they can jump approximately 4 meters into the air to catch birds (see video below). In India it is a sport to release a caracal among a flock of pigeons to see how many birds it can capture. Some can kill as many as 12 pigeons in one attack.

The caracal's hind legs make them the fastest of the small cats, but their power and agility also allow them to traverse rough, mountainous terrain.

3. Survival Without Water

It may be possible for a caracal to go indefinitely without drinking water. This is because their demand for water is satisfied by the fluids in their prey.

To help retain water, caracals have evolved to excrete highly concentrated drops of urine. Without a need for a nearby water source, they can exploit territory that other cats neglect, such as the semi-desert areas in which they are often found.

Caracals have little need for water.

Caracals have little need for water.

4. Tree Climbing

Much like a leopard, the caracal can climb trees and will sometimes store large prey on branches to return to later. This prevents the prey from being eaten by hyenas and lions, allowing the caracal to make the most of its hunting success. Its large retractable claws and powerful legs give it this climbing ability.

5. Cathemeral (All Hours) Activity

The caracal prefers moderate temperatures and is typically a nocturnal hunter, but, like some cats (e.g., lions), it has adapted to hunting during the day. This behavioral adaptation allows it to acquire more food because it can hunt at all hours. Its sandy-colored fur provides camouflage for daylight hunting in its preferred semi-desert habitat. Nevertheless, like most cats, it will rest during the hottest part of the day to conserve energy.

The caracal is an expert hunter at all hours.

The caracal is an expert hunter at all hours.

6. The Caracal's Foot Pads

Stiff hairs grow between the toes on each of the caracal's foot pads. This appears to be an adaptation that allows the animal to walk on soft sand. Indeed, the caracal is often found on the outskirts of the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Its ability to thrive in a number of habitats is a barometer of its evolutionary success.

The distribution of the caracal (from a 2016 report).

The distribution of the caracal (from a 2016 report).

General Facts About the Caracal

  • Name: Caracal comes from the Turkish words "kara kulak" meaning "black ear".
  • Habitat: (see map) The caracal can survive in a diverse range of habitats including dry savanna, semi-desert, woodland, scrub-land, and mountainous regions.
  • Weight: Female: 11-15 kg (24-33 lbs). Male: 13-20 kg (29-44 lbs).
  • Size: Female: 69-103 cm. Male: 75-106 cm (head to body length). Tail length is an additional 20-34 cm. It is about 40-50 cm tall at the shoulder.
  • Fur: Shares a lion's sandy color and absence of pattern.
  • Diet: Birds, small mammals, reptiles, insects, and sometimes plant matter. Occasionally larger prey such as impala, bush buck, and antelope fawns.
  • Communication: They can growl, meow, hiss, purr, call, and even bark like dogs. Ear movements are also used to communicate.
  • Lifespan: 12-18 years.
  • Gestation: 69-81 days.
  • Cubs Per Litter: 1-6 (usually on the lower end), weighing 200-250g.
  • Cub Maturity: 16-18 months, but may leave their mother after 12 months.
  • Predators: Man, and occasionally lions, hyenas, and leopards. Their habitat is being destroyed by desertification and agriculture, and they are often killed for attacking livestock.
  • Social Interaction: Solitary and secretive, with independent territories that frequently overlap. Males and females interact during the annual mating season.
  • Territory: 7 - 1,116 km² (3 - 430 sq. miles). Larger territory is correlated with bigger animals and sparseness of prey.

A Caracal Challenges Two Jackals

An Evolutionary Success Story

The caracal is an exquisitely beautiful animal that has been shaped conspicuously by evolution. Like humans, it is well adapted to a number of habitats and conditions. Unlike humans, its remarkable abilities to leap into the air, hear the smallest of sounds, and survive without water give it an almost superhuman nature.

Despite the incursions of man, the caracal is not threatened as a species. It is an evolutionary success story because of the adaptations that ensure its survival and ascendency in the wild.

© 2013 Thomas Swan


%%% on February 25, 2020:

thank you, it helped a lot with my project

Adadadadad on October 09, 2019:

Thx it was really useful for my project

A Human... on March 11, 2019:

Crazy, these are wicked animals! So cool!

someone on January 31, 2019:

I need a couple of behavioral adaptations

person on January 09, 2018:

how much water does a Caracal consume a day?

just a question....... on November 08, 2017:

but can you update this with more facts please because im doing an essay on it.

Random Person 01 on October 29, 2017:

Super helpful!! Thank you.

Cant say on March 29, 2017:

okay i need this info for my essay, now what do caracals hide in???

Jaxson Gates on November 29, 2016:

Thanks for the information for my 5th grade writing essay!

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on October 26, 2014:

Thanks pom pom girl. Yes, I utilized many different sources to write this article. Glad you appreciate it.

pom pom girl on October 19, 2014:

I couldn't find these details on any other site . It's great ! THANKS

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 31, 2014:

Thanks Kai.

Kai Hassen on July 31, 2014:

its the best website about caracals I could find

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 13, 2014:

The hub that is linked below the summary should have more information on that.

David Guppy on February 12, 2014:

Just wondering what are some environmental impacts are that affect the Caracal?

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 12, 2013:

Thanks sgbrown! I would be honored if you shared and linked to my hub. I have read your hub and think it supplements this one well. Once this comes out of pending I will add a link to your hub here. Cheers!

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 12, 2013:

Thanks Dreamhowl. It surprised me too when I learnt of it. What better way to achieve evolutionary success than to overcome your need for drinking water?! Quite incredible creatures.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 12, 2013:

Thanks Wesman, appearances can be deceiving; caracals are most closely related to the serval and African golden cat.

Jessica Peri from United States on February 11, 2013:

This is really interesting! Especially the fact they could survive indefinitely without water. That's pretty amazing! Voted up, awesome and interesting.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on February 11, 2013:

This is a great hub on the caracal. You have really good information here! I wrote a hub on the "plight" of the caracal sometime back. I would really like to add a link to this hub, if that's ok with you! I would also like to share it on my wildlife blog. Let me know.... Voting this up and interesting!

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on February 11, 2013:

Very interesting! I've never heard of this species of wild cats, but they appear to be related to American bobcats, and the Canadian Lynx.