The sand cat Felis margarita is a small cat, with size and build smaller than the wildcat Felis silvestris, but ears outstandingly larger. The head is flat and broad; the ears are broad and set low down on the sides of the head without apical tufts. The eyes are yellow amber, greenish to yellow-bluish. The nose pad is black. The pelage is soft and dense, in winter up to 55 mm on the back, with abundant soft woolly underfur, giving the cat a solid appearance despite its small size. The colouration is strikingly pallid; the general tint of the back is pale sandy isabelline to golden-sandy, finely speckled with black over the shoulders and with silvery grey on the upper flanks. A poorly differentiated spinal band is present. The crown of the head is pale sandy and marked with very faint ill-defined striations. There are three to five dark, narrow, always obscure and sometimes indistinguishable, longitudinal lines on the back of the neck (Rosevear 1974).
The skull is distinctive with large, forward-facing orbits and a short, broad rostrum. The auditory bullae are exceptionally large, attaining 10.5 x 6.8 mm in diameter (Schauenberg 1974).
The face is broad due to a well developed beard, and marked with a dark reddish-fulvous stripe from the anterior edge of each eye backwards across the cheeks. Chest and belly are white with an indistinct line of demarcation on lower flanks and very faint buffy wash on lower throat. The limbs are white internally, and externally marked by at least two pronounced black elbow bar ‘bracelets’. The outsides of the hind limbs have from two to five dark, mostly brown-black half-rings (Weigel 1961).
The palms and soles are covered with a dense mat of fine, long (15–30 mm, Heptner and Sludskii 1972), dark-brown to black wavy hair, completely concealing the pads. The tail is half the body length, tipped with black and has a varying number of subterminal tail rings. The baculum is very small, not exceeding 3 mm (Schauenberg 1974).
Sand cats become gradually larger from west to east, with the smallest subspecies F. m. margarita in Africa (Schauenberg 1974). Adults vary in head-to-body size from 39–47.9 cm with a 24.9–30 cm long tail and weigh about 2.0 kg. Males are larger and heavier than females (Sliwa 2013).
Photo and text by Alexander Sliwa, 2014
Sliwa, A. 2014. Sand cat: Profile. Sand Cat Working Group