Facts about the animal kingdom

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 14, 2022
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples

Felids or commonly felids (Felidae), colloquially called cats, are a family of placental mammals of the order Carnivora. They have slender bodies, keen hearing, short snouts, and excellent eyesight. They are the most secretive of all hunting mammals. Most consume only meat, ignoring any other food as live prey. They catch them with their sharp claws and usually kill them with a single, tough bite.

In the following AnimalWised article, we will explain what the different types of felines are and what their characteristic features are.

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  1. Characteristics of the felines
  2. Types of felines
  3. Types of Felinae
  4. Types of Pantherinae

Characteristics of the felines

All species of cats or felids have a number of characteristics in common, regardless of their species. These are some characteristics all cats share:

  • Placental mammals: Their bodies are covered with hair, they give birth to their young already formed and feed them with the milk secreted by their breasts.

  • Carnivores: Within the mammals, cats belong to the order of carnivores (Carnivora). Like the other members of this order, cats feed on other animals.

  • Slim body: All cats have a very similar body shape that allows them to run at high speed. They have strong muscles and a tail that gives them good balance. Their short muzzle and sharp fangs stand out on their head.

  • Large claws: They have strong and extended claws that are sheathed. They only pull them out when they need them.

  • Very variable size: the various cat species can weigh as little as 0.9 kg (ca. 2 lb.), in the case of the rusty spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), up to 260 kg (570 lb.), in the case of the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).

  • Predators: All these animals are very good hunters. They catch their prey by stalking or chasing them.
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples - Characteristics of the felines

Types of felines

Currently, there are only two subfamilies of felids:

  • Felinae: includes small and medium-sized species that have a bony hyoid bone, which is why they can purr but not roar. Felidae species have the most diverse coat pattern of any terrestrial carnivore.

  • Pantherinae: includes the big cats. The structure of their mouthparts, with a single, rounded vocal fold and a thick mucous membrane, enables them to emit roar.

In this article we will go over all the cat species that belong to these groups.

Types of Felinae

The subfamily Felinidae includes 34 species of small or medium-sized cats. The main difference from the Pantherinae subfamily is in their mouth structure. Their vocal cords are simpler than those of Pantherinae cats, so they cannot produce a true roar. They can, however, purr.

Within this group, there are different types of felines or lineages. Their classification is based on their genetic relationship. They are the following:

  • Felis
  • Prionailurus
  • Acinonyx
  • Pardofelis
  • Lynx
  • Leopardus


Cats form the genus Felis, which includes some of the smallest species of all feline species. For this reason, they feed on small animals such as rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They also tend to eat large insects, such as grasshoppers.

All wildcat species are particularly good at stalking and hunting at night, thanks to their highly developed night vision. They are distributed throughout Eurasia and Africa, except the domestic cat (Felis catus), a cat selected by humans from the African wild cat (F. lybica). Since then, it has accompanied our species on its travels through all continents and islands.

The genus Felis consists of 7 species:

  • Domestic cat (F. catus)
  • European wildcat (F. silvestris)
  • Sand cat (F. margarita)
  • Jungle cat (F. chaus)
  • Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti)
  • African wildcat (F. lybica)
  • Black-footed cat (F. nigripes)

If you want to learn more about the different types of domestic cats, continue reading this article, where we describe domestic cat breeds with spots.

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples - Types of Felinae


Prionailurus is a genus of spotted small wild cats native to Asia. Their preferred habitat is forests. They feed on small mammals, reptiles, birds, and occasionally aquatic life.

These cats are also nocturnal, although they differ in size and behavior. Among them is the smallest cat species in the world, the so-called Rusty-spotted cat (P. rubiginosus). It is 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) in length. The fishing cat (P. viverrinus), on the other hand, is distinguished by being the only cat that feeds on fish. For this reason, the fishing cat lives mainly near wetlands, along rivers, streams, oxbow lakes, in swamps and mangroves.

In the group Prionailurus we can find the following 5 species:

  • Rusty-spotted cat (P. rubiginosus)
  • Flat-headed cat (P. planiceps)
  • Sunda leopard cat (P. javanensis)
  • Leopard cat (P. bengalensis)
  • Fishing cat (P. viverrinus)
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -


There are 3 species in this genius that are closely related genetically despite their different appearance:

  • Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi)
  • Cougar (Puma concolor)

These three species are among the largest cat species. They are very agile predators with diurnal habits. The cheetah prefers arid and dry environments where it waits for its prey near water sources. The cougar, on the other hand, is more likely to be found in the high mountains.

If these cat species stand out for anything, it is for the speed they can achieve thanks to their elongated and stylized bodies. The fastest animal in the world is the cheetah, which easily exceeds 100 km/h, which allows them to hunt their prey by pursuit.

If you want to learn more about the cheetahs, continue reading this article, where we describe the differences between a cheetah and a leopard.

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -


These cats are one of the most unknown cat species due to their rarity. They live in the Indo-Malayan region of Southeast Asia and are characterized by their unique beauty and golden colors. Their color patterns allow them to camouflage themselves with the litter on the ground and the bark of trees.

In this group, we find 3 species or types of felines:

  • Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata)
  • Bay cat (Catopuma badia)
  • Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii)
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -


Lynxes (Lynx spp.) are medium-sized predatory cats with black spots on their bodies. They are characterized mainly by their short tail. They also have large and pointed ears that end in a black plume. This gives them excellent hearing, which they use to track their prey. They feed mainly on medium-sized mammals, such as rabbits or lagomorphs.

This type of cats includes 4 species:

  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

  • Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)

  • Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis)

  • Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -


Leopardus is a genus that includes eight species of small cats native to the Americas. They are distributed throughout South and Central America, except for the ocelot, which has populations in southern North America. These cat species are distinguished by their dark spots on a yellowish-brown background. Their size is medium, and they feed on animals such as opossums and small monkeys.

In this group, we can find the following 8 species:

  • Ocelot (L. pardalis)

  • Oncilla (L. tigrinus)

  • Pampas cat (L. colocola)

  • Kodkod (L. guigna)

  • Margay (L. wiedii)

  • Geoffroy's cat (L. geoffroyi)

  • Andean mountain cat (L. jacobita)

  • Southern tigrine (L. guttulus)
Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -


This group of felines includes 3 species that are genetically related:

  • Serval (Leptailurus serval)

  • African golden cat (Caracal aurata)

  • Caracal (Caracal caracal)

All of these cat species live in Africa, except the caracal, which also occurs in southwest Asia. This and the serval prefer dry and semi-desert areas, while the African golden cat lives in fairly closed forests. All are known to prey secretly on medium-sized animals, especially birds and large rodents.

Have you heard of other big cat hybrids? There are many possible combinations, but they share some common characteristics. Read on in this other article where we talk about the differences between ligers and tigers.

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -

Types of Pantherinae

Pantherinae is a subfamily within the family Felidae. These carnivorous animals are distinguished from other species of cats that exist by their long, thick and strong vocal cords. Their structure allows them to emit true roars. Although this is their main characteristic, some species we will see cannot roar.

This subfamily of cats is less diverse than the previous one, since most of its species are extinct. Currently, there are only two lineages:

  • Neofelis

  • Panthera


Although commonly known as panthers, these animals do not belong to the genus Panthera, but to Neofelis. Like many of the cats we have seen, panthers live in southern Asia and the Indo-Malaysian islands. This cat species can reach a fairly large size, although not as large as their closest relatives. They are mainly arboreal. They climb trees to hunt primates, or jump down from them to catch medium-sized land animals.

The genus Neofelis includes 2 known species:

  • Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

  • Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi)

If you want to know more about leopards, do not miss this other article where we explain the different types of leopards.

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples - Types of Pantherinae


Members of the genus Panthera are the largest cat species in the world. Their robust bodies, sharp teeth and powerful claws enable them to feed on large animals such as deer, wild boar and even crocodiles. Famous are the fights between the latter and the tiger (P. tigris), which is the largest cat in the world, weighing up to 300 kg (660 lb.).

Almost all big cats live in Africa and South Asia, where they inhabit the savannah or jungle. The only exception is the jaguar (P. onca): the largest predatory cat in the Americas. All of them are well-known animals, except for the snow leopard (P. uncia), which lives in the most remote mountainous regions of Central Asia. This is due to its special white color with which it camouflages itself in the snow.

Within the genus Panthera there are 5 species:

  • Tiger (P. tigris)

  • Snow leopard (P. uncia)

  • Jaguar (P. onca)

  • Lion (P. leo)

  • Leopard (P. pardus)

If you want to know more about the different subspecies of tigers, do not miss this other article about the different tiger species around the world.

Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples -

If you want to read similar articles to Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Kitchener, AC et al. (2017). A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. CatNews .
  • Christiansen, P., & Harris, JM (2005). Body size of Smilodon (Mammalia: Felidae). Journal of Morphology , 266 (3), 369-384.
  • Paijmans, JL et al. (2017). Evolutionary history of saber-toothed cats based on ancient mitogenomics. Current Biology , 27 (21), 3330-3336.
  • Hunt Jr, R.M. (1998). Evolution of the aeluroid Carnivora. Diversity of the earliest aeluroids from Eurasia (Quercy, Hsanda-Gol) and the origin of felids. American Museum invites; No. 3252.
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Types of Felines - Characteristics and Examples