The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis; /ˈɒsəlɒt/), also known as the dwarf leopard, is a wild cat distributed extensively within South America, including the islands of Trinidad and Margarita, Central America, and Mexico. North of Mexico, it is found regularly only in the extreme southern part of Texas, although there are rare sightings in southern Arizona. Its fur was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of ocelots were killed for their fur. The cat was listed as a Vulnerablefrom 1972 until 1996 and is now listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Characteristics Edit

The ocelot is a medium-sized spotted cat, similar to the bobcat in physical proportions. The ocelot is between 55 and 100 centimetres (22 and 39 in) in head-and-body length and weighs 8–16 kilograms (18–35 lb). Larger individuals have occasionally been recorded. The thin tail, 26–45 centimetres (10–18 in) long, is ringed or striped and is shorter than the hindlimbs. The round ears are marked with a bright white spot, in contrast with the black background. The eyes are brown, and gleam golden when exposed to light. Ocelots have 28 to 30 teeth, and the dental formula is 3.1.2– The subspecies differ mainly in cranial measurements.

The fur is short and smooth; the back is basically creamy, tawny, yellowish, reddish grey or grey, while the neck and underside are white. The guard hairs (the hairs above the basal hairs of the back) are 1 centimetre (0.39 in) long, while the fur on the underbelly measures 0.8 centimetres (0.31 in). The coat is extensively marked with a variety of solid black markings – these vary from open or closed bands and stripes on the back, cheeks and flanks to small spots on the head and limbs. A few dark stripes run straight from the back of the neck up to the tip of the tail. A few horizontal streaks can be seen on the insides of the legs. English naturalist Richard Lydekker observed that the ocelot is "one of the most difficult members of the feline family to describe". In 1929, wildlife author Ernest Thompson Seton described the coat of the ocelot as "the most wonderful tangle of stripes, bars, chains, spots, dots and smudges...which look as though they were put on as the animal ran by." The spoor measures nearly 2 by 2 centimetres (0.79 in × 0.79 in). The ocelot can be easily confused with the margay, but differs in being twice as heavy, having a greater head-and-body length, a shorter tail, smaller eyes relative to the size of the head, and different cranial features. The similar jaguar is notably larger and heavier, and has rosettes instead of spots and stripes.

Ecology and Behavior Edit

The ocelot is active around twilight (crepuscular) and at night (nocturnal), and hence difficult to observe. However, it can be seen hunting in daytime as well – especially on cloudy or rainy days. The ocelot is active for 12 to 14 hours every day, and hunting is the major activity. It rests mainly during the day and in a variety of places, such as tree branches, depressions at the base of trees or under fallen trees. Nocturnality in ocelots appears to increase in areas where they face significant hunting risk. The ocelot moves 1.8–7.6 kilometres (1.1–4.7 mi) every night, especially on certain favored trails; males appear to roam twice the distance covered by females. Ocelots in Peru were observed resting for a few hours in the midnight after their walk. Ocelots are known to swim efficiently. They can produce a long-range "yowl" in the mating season as well as short-range vocalizations like "meow"s.

Solitary animals, ocelots live singly in territories that are scent-marked by urine spraying and forming dung piles. Male territories are 3.5–46 square kilometres (1.4–17.8 sq mi) large, while those of females cover 0.8–15 square kilometres (0.31–5.79 sq mi). Ranges of females hardly overlap, whereas the territory of a male can include the territories of two to three females in oestrus. Social interaction is minimal, though a few adults have been observed together even in non-mating months, and some juveniles may interact with their parents. Ocelots also appear in high densities in Peru and Venezuela, where densities can reach 0.4–0.8 per square kilometre (1.0–2.1/sq mi). Barro Colorado Island holds the highest ocelot density recorded: 1.59–1.74 per square kilometre (4.1–4.5/sq mi). This is probably due to higher prey availability, increased protection from poaching and reduced occurrence of large predators. A study suggested that ocelot densities in an area may fall if rainfall decreases.

Hunting Abilities

These largely nocturnal cats use keen sight and hearing to hunt rabbits, rodents, iguanas, fish, and frogs. They also take to the trees and stalk monkeys and birds as well as armadillos and opossums. Unlike many cats, they do not avoid water and can swim well. Like other cats, ocelots are adapted for eating meat. They have pointed fangs used to deliver a killing bite, and sharp back teeth that can tear food like scissors. Ocelots do not have teeth appropriate for chewing, so they tear their food to pieces and swallow it whole. Their raspy tongues can clean a bone of every last tasty morsel.

Habitat Edit

Many ocelots live under the leafy canopies of South American rain forests, but they also inhabit brushlands and can be found as far north as Texas. These cats can adapt to human habitats and are sometimes found in the vicinity of villages or other settlements.

Conservation Edit

Ocelots' fine fur has made them the target of countless hunters, and in many areas they are quite rare, including Texas, where they are endangered. Ocelots are protected in the United States and most other countries where they live. Female ocelots have litters of two or three darkly colored kittens. In northern locations females den in the autumn, while in tropical climes the breeding season may not be fixed.