The Fishing Cat

| 44 Comments

A recent conversation brought up the subject of one of my favorite animals—and one of the more remarkable examples of evolution: the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). The Fishing Cat is just that—a cat that subsists on fish, and that swims naturally. In fact, the Fishing Cat actually has webbed paws.

They’re a little bigger than a bobcat, about three and a half feet long (including tail), and are native to southeast Asia, where they live beside rivers, hunting for fish. They don’t just scoop the fish out with their paws; they swim and dive under the water to catch fish. There are several zoos that have Fishing Cats, including the National Zoo in Washington; you can watch a video of Fishing Cats hunting at their website. Personally, I’m fond of the cats at the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound in Rosamond, California; they have some adorable pictures of Fishing Kittens on their website.

44 Comments

tim-

what are this cat’s closest relatives?

is there evidence of felines having developed similar water associated traits in the past?

The only close relative I can think of. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Van

What about these rows I found by googling: “Despite its fishing habits, the fishing cat does not show marked morphological adaptations to capturing or eating fish. … Although webbed feet have often been noted as a characteristic of the fishing cat, Kitchener (1991) shows that the webbing beneath the toes is not much more developed than that of a bobcat.http://lynx.uio.no/lynx/catsgportal[…]/viver01.htm

”…shows that the webbing beneath the toes is not much more developed than that of a bobcat.”

Cetaceans had to start somewhere.

The only close relative I can think of. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Van

Any idea what they go for in the U.S.?

a great blog this is ~admiring

It calls to mind one of my favorite passages from the first edition of Origin , about a bear swimming in a lake with its mouth open catching floating insects and how if the supply of floating insects was consistent, the bears could become more aquatic summing beneficial traits over many generations until you had a creature “as monstrous as a whale.” Sadly, Darwin took this bit out in later editions because he was ridiculed for it.

While I was looking for more video of the fishing cat on YouTube I came across this subscriber channel: “BigCatRescue”, of which does regular segments on big cats, and does have one on the fishing cat. It’s a great resource, here is the link: www.youtube.com/user/BigCatRescue

Speaking of Darwin’s aquatic bear… I just came across this on BBC.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/[…]/6687129.stm

It’s only microevolution because they’re still cats.

Kidding, kidding.

It’s only microevolution because they’re still cats. Kidding, kidding.

If you Google “piano playing cat”, (www.youtube.com/v/TZ860P4iTaM) you will note that the cat still looks like a cat with no “fingers” evolved for playing piano (only “microevolution”). :-)

Just kidding also.

More seriously, however, it looks as though subtle “cognitive” abilities that help animals exploit an ecological niche can open up a whole new evolutionary path. There are many ways such a diversion onto another path can take place.

Mike Elzinga -

That is actually an interesting thought.

I’m not sure whether highly flexible species that can adapt to multiple environments should give rise to a lot of different lineages, since they can go into a lot of different environments, or whether it should be the opposite - lower selective pressure on such species in any environment.

The example of humans is complicated by cooperative and social behaviors, and by the strong tendency for human groups to breed with neighboring groups, making the human population highly contiguous over the long run.

I’m not sure whether highly flexible species that can adapt to multiple environments should give rise to a lot of different lineages, since they can go into a lot of different environments, or whether it should be the opposite - lower selective pressure on such species in any environment.

Yeah, interesting. It would have to be somewhat restrictive, I would guess. An animal would have to be just “specifically smart” enough to move over into a niche that increases the probability of its survival.

That’s what I like about the humorous implications of the “Darwin Award” where and individual is just specifically “smart” enough to remove itself from the gene pool and give the rest of the species a better chance. :-)

i’m not sure why to think of this as a “remarkable example[s] of evolution.” cats are smart as hell! tigers love to swim, don’t they? if i was a cat and lived near a creek, i’d want some of that tasty fish, too.

this reminds me of a brief article i read a long time ago, don’t know where, about the idea that hominins didn’t evolve from pre-hominins on the savanna, but rather in the river. i don’t remember the logic, just the hypothesis.

anybody?

this reminds me of a brief article i read a long time ago, don’t know where, about the idea that hominins didn’t evolve from pre-hominins on the savanna, but rather in the river. i don’t remember the logic, just the hypothesis.

You may be thinking of the “Aquatic Ape” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquati[…]e_hypothesis

i’m not sure why to think of this as a “remarkable example[s] of evolution.” cats are smart as hell! tigers love to swim, don’t they? if i was a cat and lived near a creek, i’d want some of that tasty fish, too.

specialist as opposed to generalist.

that’s why it’s a remarkable example.

know any other felines specialized on a fish diet, do you?

Harold Wrote:

The example of humans is complicated by cooperative and social behaviors, and by the strong tendency for human groups to breed with neighboring groups, making the human population highly contiguous over the long run.

One of the things that concern me about humans is the incredibly high entropy associated with their existence as a species. Generalists might not always have the advantage. Animals that eat up their entire habitat aren’t necessarily “adaptable” for the long haul. Other species have been around for much longer.

A better combination might be a mix of relative specialists that exploit complementary parts of the ecosystem in a way that provides support for each other.

A better combination might be a mix of relative specialists that exploit complementary parts of the ecosystem in a way that provides support for each other.

tropical reeef systems.

tropical reef systems.

Indeed; and tropical rain forests, both robust enough to withstand the onslaught of everything except one species. Makes one wonder how often evolution has produced a species with a built in “suicide” flaw that takes out many other species with itself.

Back on topic, however; my impression of this cat is that it hasn’t had long to diverge into this fish eating niche among cats. I wonder how “pliable” its current adaptation is if fish became unavailable.

This would be a chance to do and experiment if some of these could be isolated from the group and placed in another environment where similar cats are known to be able to survive reasonably well. It would be hard to do though, and probably not “ethical”.

however; my impression of this cat is that it hasn’t had long to diverge into this fish eating niche among cats.

makes sense, but that’s exactly the interesting question, and why i was wondering what the cladistics are on this fellow, and whether similar traits have been seen in extinct felines.

perhaps it’s possible that felines simply haven’t been around long enough as a distinct group for the trait to develop multiple times.

OTOH, “sabre teeth” have evolved in felines on at least two separate occassions.

er, using “felines” in the loosest possible sense, anyway.

also an interesting question you raise as to whether these guys really are obligate piscivores

I seem to recall reading they basically are, but was unable to track down the specific reference.

however, in trying to track the reference down using “obligate piscivore” as search term, I did run across a very interesting report from the US Fish and Wildlife service.

completely unrelated, but very interesting (and a bit scary) nonetheless:

http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/ec/Me[…]r%202003.pdf

warning: not for bedtime reading.

also, since it’s so OT, I only mention it as a complete tangent.

holy crap, i just check out the links to the kitten photos…

http://www.cathouse-fcc.org/images/bullet1mon.jpg

it’s a cuteness overdose.

now I gotta go look at a picture of Ann Coulter, just to recover.

ah, correction, evidently while primarily piscivores (to a very large extent), they, will, in fact, eat other things opportunistically:

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.e[…]errinus.html

Fishing cats are best described as piscivores. Earliest records indicate that fishing cats predominantly feed on fish and shellfish. These early records also state that fishing cats have been known to eat dogs, sheep, and calves. At that time fishing cats were known to have taken human infants (Finn, 1929). In 1987 a fishing cat was observed eating a dead cow, so it is believed that they eat carrion (Haque, 1988). A study examining the food habits of P. viverrinus revealed that that they primarily feed on fish. A frequency analysis showed that out of 144 scats examined, 109 contained fish, 39 contained birds, 31 contained grass, 18 contained insects, 13 contained rodents, and 11 contained a mixture of snakes, lizards, mollusks, rabbits and cows (Haque and Vijayan, 1993). (Finn, 1929; Haque and Vijayan, 1993; Haque, 1988)

I find the reference to eating humans and sheep questionable (probably very early 3rd party information), especially given their size, but that the scat data is likely more reliable.

still…

cows?

maybe just as scavengers.

tropical rain forests

are at the mercy of the climate, which regionally the forest affects but does not control.

Before LGM, say 30 kya, the Amazon Basin was mostly savanna. Near the mouth was tropical (aeolian) sand dunes. Rainfall was highly seasonal. Only the Peruvian lowlands (hills) appear to have been continually covered with rain forest. I don’t know about further north in South America, outside the Amazon Basin.

This, it seems, was the direct result of the ITCZ being further to the north during that time of cold global climate.

However, with global warming, the ITCZ appears to once again to be moving further north. The southern portion of the Amazon Basin is once again reverting to a warm and dry savanna.

And yes, further into the Amazon Basin, large portions of the tropical rain forest are suffering at man’s hand, but this is small pickings compared to the (to me, surprising) effects of global warming in the region.

this reminds me of a brief article i read a long time ago, don’t know where, about the idea that hominins didn’t evolve from pre-hominins on the savanna, but rather in the river. i don’t remember the logic, just the hypothesis.

That’s because there isn’t any logic, just a hotbed of false “facts” and logical fallacies. :) As Mike Elzinga posted, you are thinking of the “aquatic ape” idea. While the Wiki article he points to isn’t horrible, it does contain a lot of nonsense, and I’m (probably) not going to touch it for fear of starting a Wiki-war. (Simply removing some inappropriate editorialising about a link to my site there last year was problematic, because of the oddly partisan nature of the proponents.)

Anyway, I’ve got a site pointing out the problems with the idea, including many examples of logical fallacies (the idea is actually – IMO – a good teaching resource about logical fallacies because it has so many). I’ve also written an entry on the subject for the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology (which is so expensive, however, that even a lot of university libraries may not have it). The site is Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim?

CrazyQat:

Thanks for that other link to the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. I have a couple of Elaine Morgan’s books (Scars of Evolution and the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis) and I thought they were crap, but I’m not qualified enough in this area to rip them apart.

From my first glance at the Wikipedia article I noted there were some of the criticisms I’ve heard. It was off topic, and I figured no one was going to spend much time on it here.

I can imagine that the biologists gag on this stuff like I gag on all the voodoo that some people can churn out using “quantum mechanics” to gussy it up to make it look sophisticated. It turns out to be pseudo-intellectual junk that makes some people think they are getting some really deep insights. Shudder!

Now that I am retired and have a little more discretionary time, I am gradually picking up on some of the concepts in biology and evolution, but still shaky on the technical terminology (doing the “concepts first, technical terms later” schtick). But I guess that is better than those ID/Creationists who toss around the technical words without seeming to have a clue about the concepts to which they refer.

And yes, further into the Amazon Basin, large portions of the tropical rain forest are suffering at man’s hand, but this is small pickings compared to the (to me, surprising) effects of global warming in the region.

And if the global warming is primarily the work of humans, it’s even worse.

I was trying to come up with another example of a complex interlocking ecosystem that was fairly robust. Maybe I didn’t do too well in my choice given the context of that remark. It was related to a generalist species that destroys its entire habitat not necessarily having an advantage over a mixture of relative specialists. Speculation on my part. There isn’t any particular direction to evolution that is “preferable”. It just does what it does. If humans wipe out their entire habitat, who knows what will come next?

Then there might just be the possibility that an asteroid (perhaps Apophis?) will thin the herd in a few decades. Contingencies, contingencies.

global warming is primarily the work of humans

I’d go further, having read some books on climatology and followed RealClimate for well over a year now.

Global warming is entirely due to human activities!

complex interlocking ecosystems that was fairly robust

Topical rain forests are certainly that. I was just pointing out that, depending upon the climate, the tropical rain forests wax and wane…

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 1, column 230, byte 230 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

MY MOM WOOOO!!!! yay cookies! cookies! cookies! I work at burger king making juicy whoppers! would u like an apple pie with that!? would u like an apple pie with that!????????????????????????

MY MOM WOOOO!!!! yay cookies! cookies! cookies! I work at burger king making juicy whoppers! would u like an apple pie with that!? would u like an apple pie with that!????????????????????????

u r all gaY In my books hehe lol

u r all gaY In my books hehe lol

It’s It’s just SCARY! It just scared me! Oh, and Bob u better freakin’ shut up before I slap u silly, faget. U r the gayest peep eva and I really mean it!

thank tou this was very useful .my child had to write areport on the cat.i had walked point in viet nam and in 1970,i never heard of them until this year. thank-you!

thank tou this was very useful .my child had to write areport on the cat.i had walked point in viet nam and in 1970,i never heard of them until this year. thank-you!

thank tou this was very useful .my child had to write areport on the cat.i had walked point in viet nam and in 1970,i never heard of them until this year. thank-you!

who are the fishing cats related to?

I was having difficulty viewing previous comments. I keep getting 404 not found. Is this a temporary thing? I was just looking through old posts for fun.

Hello, I appreciate the blog. Why am I getting a 404 error when trying read archived topics. I will check back to see if this gets fixed.

I was I hope it gets fixed. Thanks

When it comes time to move in New Jersey I came across Dan the affordable moving man and decided to give him a chance and I was not sorry. His rates saved me a ton of money and the service was excellent. It was a great surprise when I found out there was one honest mover in Jersey. I will definitely be recommending Dan to all of my friends in the Jersey Area.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on May 23, 2007 9:06 PM.

Happy Linnaeus Day!! was the previous entry in this blog.

Another Iowa State professor speaks out is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter