Fishing cats range from about 25 pounds for males to about 15 pounds for females. Head and body length is 25 to 34 inches. These cats have a long, stocky body, relatively short legs, a broad head, round ears, and a short tail. Their olive-gray fur has black stripes and rows of black spots.
The fishing cat’s general distribution is southwest India, Sri Lanka, countries of the southern Himalayas, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, China, and the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. However, these cats are not found all throughout this broad area because of their habitat preferences. They are strongly tied to densely vegetated areas near water, in marshes, mangroves, rivers, and streams.
The fishing cat’s diet includes birds, small mammals, snakes, snails, and fish. The cat attracts fish by lightly tapping the water's surface with its paw, mimicking insect movements. Then, it dives into the water to catch the fish. It can also use its partially webbed paws to scoop fish, frogs, and other prey out of the water or swim underwater to prey on ducks and other aquatic birds. It is powerful enough to take large prey, such as calves and dogs.
Two to three young are born after a gestation of about 63 days. Young reach adult size at less than one year of age. Little is known about the details of their reproductive or social behavior in the wild.
Fishing cats are listed as endangered on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. They are threatened by habitat loss and hunting for food and fur. People have drained many wetland areas to make room for farmland and roads. Pollution from industries has poisoned rivers and streams where fishing cats once fed. However, fishing cats appear to do well in suburban habitats, so they may prove adaptable to human activities that some other species.
When swimming, the fishing cat may use its short, flattened tail like a rudder, helping control its direction in the water.
Part of the fishing cat's scientific name, viverrinus, comes from the taxonomic family Viverridae. Like the fishing cat, civets and other members of this group have long bodies and short legs, and many have stripes or spots along the body, and banded tails.