Felis manul is relatively the same size as a large domestic cat. It has long dense fur, which is generally gray or pale reddish in color. Its white guard hairs give it a frosted appearance. The dark colored fur on its underside is nearly twice as long as the fur on its back. It has a series of five to seven narrow black stripes running transversely across its lower back. The long tail is black tipped, with a series of five to seven black rings running down its length. Its short, stumpy legs are generally similar in color to the fur on the rest of the body with indistinct black bands sometimes present. The fur under the surface of the paws is generally short and reddish in appearance. Its head is small and has broad, white rimmed eyes. The eyes are unique in that they contract in small circles instead of slits like most other small wild cats. It has low set rounded ears that are generally buff colored and can have dark tips. There is silvery-gray fur with black spots on the forehead and crown. There are two narrow black stripes running down from the corners of each eye. The lips, chin and neck are white, with a slight reddish tint near the upper lip. Like most felines, it has long white whiskers.
There is huge variation in coat color across the entire range of this species. This has caused some scientists to refer to them with three different subspecies classifications. F.m.manul is the most typical coloration found (as described above), and is found throughout most of the species range, but most frequently in Mongolia and China. F.m.ferrugineus appears to be more reddish orange in color, with distinct reddish spots and stripes. It is generally found from the Caspian Sea to Pakistan. The third subspecies, F.m.nigripectus appears more grayish in color, and has a particularly distinct silver-gray winter coat. It is found in central Asiatic Russia, Nepal, and Tibet.
Biomes: mountains, desert
Litters generally range from 3 to 6 kittens in size, but some have been found to have as many as eight. Like many other felines, the kittens are blind and helpless when borne. They are typically about 5 inches long and weigh around 12 ounces at birth. The kittens are weaned around the age of two months, and have been observed hunting by the age of three to four months. The average life span is around 11-12 years.
Felis manul has been observed to be a very poor runner, and instead seeks refuge on boulders or in small crevasses when chased. Few of these animals have been kept in captivity, but those that have are generally inclined to be aggressive and fearless of humans. Felis manul does not typically spit or hiss when approached, but when excited has been observed to yelp and growl. The sound has been described more like the yelp of a small dog rather than the meow of a domestic cat. They have also been observed to purr, similar to a domestic cat.
Although hunting no longer seems to be a problem for Felis manul , in some parts of the Russian Federation, the small rodents and pikas that the manul feeds on are being poisoned because they are considered to be carriers of disease. These prey animals are also being poisoned in some parts of China where they are believed to compete with livestock for graze. It is not clear which is a bigger threat to Felis manul, the exposure to these poisons or the decreasing food supply.