DEAR JOAN: We discovered this cat in our backyard (Saratoga and Cox avenues area) and wonder if you can help us identify it. We thought it was a bobcat but are confused by the long tail.
DEAR KATHY: You probably will be relieved to know that your long-tailed bobcat is actually a house cat -- a very cool cat, but a cat nonetheless.
Don't feel bad about your confusion. The cat was bred to resemble a wildcat, and it does it very well. What you photographed is an ocicat, a mix of Abyssinian, Siamese and American shorthair.
The ocicat made its debut in 1964 when breeder Virginia Daly of Michigan tried to develop an Abyssinian-pointed Siamese. The first litter was Abyssinian in appearance, but she mated the offspring with a Siamese, she got her hoped-for Abyssinian-point plus one spotted kitten that she named Tonga. Future litters produced more spotted kittens and the ocicat was off and running.
Breeders eventually added silver tabbies into the mix. Eventually 12 colors of the cat were standardized and the breed was recognized by the Cat Fancier's Association.
Once fairly rare, the ocicat is fairly common now although that's the first one I've seen. To see Kathy's photos, go to Pinterest.com/gardenjoan and click on the "Animal Life, a column" board.
DEAR JOAN: Our family bought property at the 6,000-foot level in the Sierra. We discovered a very large anthill on the property.
It is about 3 foot high and about 5 foot wide at the base. Seems huge to us. The ants are large, black on one end and red on the other end. We are thinking that we just need to let them alone, but please tell us if that is safe to do.
DEAR CHUCK: I'd recommend collecting some of the ants and taking them to the Master Gardeners in your county, or to a college with an entomology department for positive identification. It sounds to me that what you have is some species of fairly common mound (Formica) ants.
They can build very large anthills, and the ants are on the larger size -- up to a quarter of an inch in some species.
There also is a slight chance they could be imported red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), which despite the name are red and black. Fire ants are pretty small, up to a fifth of an inch, and they have only recently made inroads into California. Fire ants will attack anything that touches their nest so it would be good to know for certain.
Mound ants can be aggressive if their nest is threatened, but otherwise they tend to do their own thing and stay out of houses. You may find them on your porch, though, foraging for food. The biggest concern for mound ants is that the colony will continue to grow and may merge with others, forming a super colony. That's a lot of ants living nearby.
If you take a "live and let live" attitude, just make sure you home doesn't appear at all inviting. Move mulch away from the foundation, make sure doors are sealed with weather stripping, and don't leave food out near the house.
February is a good month for pet adoption.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.