Sand cats are the most adorable of the small cats. There’s something about their wide, squished faces that I absolutely love. They are also pretty neat animals, surviving in some of the harshest environments in the world. Not too shabby for a little kitty.

See, sand cats live in deserts, where temperatures can reach over fifty degrees celsius during the day and drop below freezing at night. So not only do desert animals have to be really good at withstanding heat, they also have to be able to deal with sub-zero temperatures. Sand cats can be found in the Sahara desert, as well as in deserts in the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia. They are the only felid to live their lives entirely in deserts.

Don’t they just have the funniest faces?
Image by Payman sazesh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sand cats are about the size of a domestic cat, and are the smallest wild cats. They have giant ears, which enhance the cats’ sense of hearing. The outer parts of the ear (the pinnae) are shaped to protect the inner ear from blowing sand. Sand cats have dense fur which helps protect them from the cold, as well as helping the felines blend into their surroundings. The sandy-coloured coat has black stripes on the legs and tail of the cats. One of the most important features of sand cats is the thick fur that covers their paws. Not only does this save the cats from the scorching desert sand, but it also helps the cats move through loose sand without slipping too much. This is good for sand cats but bad for people who want to find them – with the fur on their feet sand cat footprints are nearly invisible.

Sand cats are nocturnal, hunting their prey which consists mainly of small rodents, reptiles and birds. They use their exceptional hearing to locate prey, and often dig the unfortunate animals out of their burrows. Sand cats don’t need to drink water, as they can get all their moisture requirements from consuming their prey. They spend their days hiding from the desert heat in burrows, either abandoned ones from other animals or self-dug ones.

Look at the little kitten! Image by Charles Barilleaux from Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sand cats are generally solitary creatures, only coming together to mate. They find each other through vocal communication, using a loud barking sound during mating season. Females give birth to an average of three kittens, which are freaking adorable and are covered in spots. The kittens mature very quickly, reaching independence within a year.

Most information we have about sand cats comes from captive animals. Due to the wide and remote areas they inhabit, the difficulty in tracking them, and their nocturnal nature, observations of sand cats in the wild are rare. From the little we do know about them, though, it’s pretty clear that sand cats are amazing (and very cute) animals.

Cover image by ErRu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit