The 3 Cats of the Caracal Lineage

The Caracal lineage consists of three medium sized cats occurring predominantly in Africa; one in the Leptailurus genus and two species in the Caracal genus. The three cats are the Serval (L. serval), the African Golden Cat (C. aurata) and the Caracal (C. caracal).

The Caracal lineage is the third oldest lineage of the Felidae family and diverged at 8.5 MYA (million years ago) from the ancestral felid species. This was during the first ice age of 8 to 10 MYA, when ancestors crossed the land bridges at the Red Sea from Asia to Africa and evolved into three mid-sized cat species.

The Serval diverged first at approximately 5.6 MYA and later the Caracal and African Golden cat diverged from each other at approximately 1.9 MYA. The three cat species expanded in Africa with the Caracal becoming the most widespread and later migrating back to Asia during another sea level drop when Asia and Africa were connected again.

Common characteristics of these three cats include slender, medium sized bodies (up to 16 to 19 kgs) with tails approximately a third of their body length and small, rounded heads. However, there are many differences between the species. The Serval has a spotted and striped coat whereas the two Caracal species have plain coats, although the African Golden Cat sometimes has feint spots.  Even though all three species predate on similar prey, each cat occupies a different habitat thus reducing competition. Caracals are generalist and are found in most habitats but typically in semi-arid savannah, whereas Servals occupy wetter, moist habitats and African Golden Cats occur primarily in the forests of Central Africa.

Caracal Lineage Cats ~ Classification

In scientific classification (taxonomy) the medium-sized African wild cats of the Caracal lineage belong to the cat family Felidae and the small cat subfamily Felinae. The higher and lower classifications of this group are as follows:


Note: 'Lineage' is not a taxonomic unit, it is a means to categorize closely related species into evolutionary groups.

African Serval Cat stickers, magnets and pins
African Golden Cat stickers, magnets and pins
Golden Cat
African Caracal Cat stickers, magnets and pins

Classification Chart

This classification chart shows the cats of the Caracal lineage which includes the Leptailurus genus and Caracal genus:

Caracal Lineage Cats - Taxonomy Diagram
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.

Leptailurus Genus

The Leptailurus genus consists of only one cat, the Serval, also known as the African Serval Cat.

The Serval split from the common ancestor around 5.6 million years ago and is endemic to Africa. Unique characteristics include the largest ears and longest legs relative to its body size of all wild cats.

1. Serval (Leptailurus serval)

 Serval (Leptailurus serval) - Caracal Lineage

Serval Classification, Conservation and Facts

Caracal Genus

The two cats of the Caracal genus are the African Golden Cat and the Caracal. The two Caracal species diverged from each other approximately 1.9 million years ago, and the present-day African Golden Cat occurs only within the Central African forests whereas the Caracal is widespread across Africa and into Asia. Although Caracals are found in forests elsewhere their range does not overlap with the African Golden Cat in the tropical forest belt.

The Caracal has pointed ears with long black tufts and was historically classified with the Lynx genus. The African Golden Cat was previously classified together with the Asiatic Golden Cat initially in the Felis genus and later the Profelis genus. However subsequent genetic research revealed these two cats were only distantly related to the other wild cats and instead closely related to each other. Except for the shape of their ears (and both have black ears) they have very similar physical characteristics.

Ten African Cats with Scientific Names
Ten Wild Cats of Africa by Wild Cat Family

Caracal Lineage Cat Quiz

Click through on the information links under each cat image above to find the answers to this quiz. Good luck!

1. On which continent do all three cats occur?

2. Which cats only occur on that continent and nowhere else ('endemic')?

3. Which cat has round pupils in contrast to most small cats that have vertical pupils?

4. What is similar about all these three cats?

5. Which cat is often confused with cheetah and leopards?

6. Which cat has only recently been studied in its natural habitat?

7. Which cat is often bred in first world countries for the exotic pet market?

More about this group of medium-sized African cats.

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