Body size and bite force of stray and feral cats - are bigger or older cats taking the largest or more difficult-to-handle prey?
As carnivorans rely heavily on their head and jaws for prey capture and handling, skull morphology and bite force can therefore reflect their ability to take larger or more difficult-to-handle prey. For 568 feral and stray cats (Felis catus), we recorded their demographics (sex and age), source location (feral or stray) and morphological measures (body mass, body condition); we estimated potential bite force from skull measurements for n = 268 of these cats, and quantified diet composition from stomach contents for n = 358. We compared skull measurements to estimate their bite force and determine how it varied with sex, age, body mass, body condition. Body mass had the strongest influence of bite force. In our sample, males were 36.2% heavier and had 20.0% greater estimated bite force (206.2 ± 44.7 Newtons, n = 168) than females (171.9 ± 29.3 Newtons, n = 120). However, cat age was the strongest predictor of the size of prey that they had taken, with older cats taking larger prey. The predictive power of this relationship was poor though (r2 < 0.038, p < 0.003), because even small cats ate large prey and some of the largest cats ate small prey, such as invertebrates. Cats are opportunistic, generalist carnivores taking a broad range of prey. Their ability to handle larger prey increases as the cats grow, increasing their jaw strength, and improving their hunting skills, but even the smallest cats in our sample had tackled and consumed large and potentially 'dangerous' prey that would likely have put up a defence.