The ocelot is the biggest of the small spotted cat species, one of the most common species of cat in its range and one of the best known. It is also considered amongst the most beautiful. Its short, sleek fur ranges from reddish, to tawny yellow, to gray, and has open, dark-centered rosettes and solid black spots, the markings often running in parallel chains along its sides of the body.
Each individual’s coat has a unique pattern. Females are about one third smaller than males, but similar in appearance otherwise. It is quite a variable species, and about ten subspecies are currently recognized.
The ocelot has a wide distribution,
from the southern tip of the United States, to Central and South America, and to northern Argentina, being found in every South American country except Chile. A remnant population in the United States lives in southern Texas, where individuals only occasionally cross into Arizona from Mexico. They occupy tropical forests, mangrove forests, savanna grasslands, coastal marshes and thorn scrubs.
PK Halder gives a brief description of Ocelot’s in this article. He said Ocelot’s fur is extensively marked with solid black markings on a creamy, tawny, yellowish, reddish gray or gray background color.
The spots on the head and limbs are small, but markings on the back, cheeks, and flanks are open or closed bands and stripes. A few dark stripes run straight from the back of the neck up to the tip of the tail.
Its neck and undersides are white, and the insides of the legs are marked with a few horizontal streaks. Its round ears are marked with a bright white spot. Its fur is short, about 0.8 cm (0.3 in) long on the belly, but with about 1 cm (0.4 in) long guard hairs on the back. The body has a notably strong odor. Each ocelot has a unique color pattern, which can be used to identify individuals.
Habits and Lifestyle
The ocelot lives a solitary life within a home range of as much as 30 square km. A male will often occupy a territory that is double the size of a female’s, overlapping the ranges of several females with which he has breeding rights. They are nocturnal animals spend their days sleeping high on a leafy branch or in thick vegetation, coming out into open areas only during the night. These animals have excellent sight, hearing and touch, all of which help them to hunt at night.
They communicate with soft meows, which become loud yowls when seeking a mate. Mating habits: Ocelots are polygynous animals, which means that one male mates with multiple females. They breed all year round, except in the north and south of its range, where they breed at the end of summer. After mating, females find a hollow tree, a crevice in the rocks, or a dense thorny thicket to prepare for birth. Gestation lasts for up to 85 days, and 2 or 3 kittens are born.
They are weaned by the age of 6 weeks and at a few months old they start to learn from their mother how to hunt. By the age of one year kittens are fully independent. Often they will be tolerated within their mother’s range for several years before they establish their own territory. Males are sexually mature at 15 months and females at 18 to 22 months.
Diet and Nutrition
Ocelots eat small rodents, reptiles, birds, medium-sized mammals, crustaceans and fish.
Most of their prey are nocturnal species, such as cane mice, spiny rats, opossums, common agoutis and armadillos.
Ocelots are polygynous animals, which means that one male mates with multiple females. They breed all year round, except in the north and south of its range, where they breed at the end of summer.
After mating, females find a hollow tree, a crevice in the rocks, or a dense thorny thicket to prepare for birth. Gestation lasts for up to 85 days, and 2 or 3 kittens are born. They are weaned by the age of 6 weeks and at a few months old they start to learn from their mother how to hunt.
By the age of one year kittens are fully independent. Often they will be tolerated within their mother’s range for several years before they establish their own territory. Males are sexually mature at 15 months and females at 18 to 22 months.
The ocelot’s major threat is thought to be habitat loss, due to forest clearance for agriculture and cattle ranching, which reduces their natural cover. There is some illegal trade, and they are often taken as pets, hunters often killing the mothers for their fur and selling the young in the pet trade.
They are also sometimes killed because they eat domestic poultry. In Texas they are often killed on the road, particularly as they must travel long distances between their remaining patches of habitat.
The global population size of ocelot has not been quantified. According to the IUCN Red List, there are estimates of this species in specific regions: in Brazil – 40,000 mature individuals; in Argentina – 1,500 to 8,000 individuals; in Texas – 50 – 80 individuals. Overall ocelots are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the list of threatened species, but their numbers are decreasing today.
Ocelots have a significant impact on their environment as predators, being opportunistic hunters preying upon many different animals.
Fun Facts for Kids
- “Leopardus pardalis” is the ocelot’s taxonomic name, which means “like a leopard,” though leopards do not live in the same areas. Their name comes from the Aztec “tlalocelot,” meaning “field tiger”.
- The ocelot is describe as being more of a picky eater than other cats, most of which remove feathers or fur from their prey while eating it, whereas ocelots will pluck off all feathers or fur before they start eating.
- The Moche people who lived in ancient Peru worshipped animals, often depicting ocelots in their art.
- The two sides of an ocelot’s coat do not have the same patterns and color.
- A female ocelot bears kittens once every two years.
- Ocelots have a raspy tongue, which can successfully remove every piece of meat from a bone.
- Unlike some other cats, ocelots are not scared of water and are excellent swimmers.