Boasting fluffy ears, big eyes and tiny noses, it's easy to mistake the sand cat for a charming kitten.
But that would be a big mistake! While they share many traits with domestic cats, sand cats are as wild as they come, and they are champions of the harsh desert environment. Here are a few things you might not know about this memorable species.
1. The sand cat's scientific name is Felis margarita.
She may look like a domestic cat, but this sand cat is as wild as they come. (Photo: Paul and Cathy/Flickr)
Also known as the sand dune cat, this feline's scientific name comes not from the famous happy hour drink but from the leader of the expedition that led to the species' discovery in 1858, Jean Auguste Margueritte.
2. The sand cat is the only cat that lives primarily in the desert.
Sand cats have adapted to live in the hot, arid conditions of the deserts ranging from northern Africa through Israel. Its furry feet help it walk along rocky, hot landscapes, and its big ears help to cool this feline down.
3. Sand cats may be among the smallest wild cats, but they're not cut out to be pets.
He may look like a playful kitten, but Thor, a resident of the Smithsonian National Zoo, is actually 7 years old! (Photo: Smithsonian's National Zoo/Flickr)
Weighing in at 8 pounds or less, wild cats look like domestic cats, but they're fierce little predators. Few things scare these little guys. Snakes? A tasty dinner. No water nearby? No problem. It's dark outside? Prime hunting time!
4. Sand cats are solitary.
These solitary creatures don't live in groups like other wild cats do. (Photo: Paul and Cathy/Flickr)
Unlike lions with their prides, sand cats spend most of the year on their own. They only pair up to mate and usually have no more than five kittens per litter.
5. They mew just like domestic cats – and bark like dogs.
When sand cats do come together, however, they have a range of calls. They purr and mew just like house cats, but they also yelp like a chihuahua.
6. Sand cats can run as fast as 25 mph.
Sand cats have hind legs that enable them to run at unbelievably high speeds. (Photo: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr)
They are hunters, after all! Their thickly cushioned feet and sleek little bodies make sure that they can fly across the sand with ease.
7. Sand cats live in burrows.
Sand cats' habitats in zoos have lots of nooks and crannies for these felines to explore. (Photo: Smithsonian's National Zoo/Flickr)
These cats are master diggers. Many of the small mammals they hunt are also burrowers, so they need to be able to dig them out. Like squirrels, sand cats will also bury their food to eat later.
8. Sand cats are threatened by traps and habitat degradation.
If you want to see a sand cat in person, you'll likely have to go to a zoo because the creature's natural habitats are shrinking. (Photo: Charles Barilleaux/Flickr)
The IUCN lists sand cats as "near threatened." In some regions, they are considered endangered. They often fall prey to traps set for livestock predators. Sadly, some are captured to sell illegally as pets.
9. Zoologists around the world are working to help wild populations recover.
A sand cat perches comfortably on a rock in Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. (Photo: David Ellis/Flickr)
In addition to laws that prohibit hunting this species, zoologists around the globe are doing their part to make sure sand cats thrive. Through breeding programs like the fruitful one at Tel Aviv's Ramat Gan Safari, sand cat populations are slowly recovering around the world.
If you thought the adults were cute, wait until you see the kittens! (GIF: Now This News/Tumblr)
Now that's a happy ending.