The ocelot (/ˈɒsəlɒt/; Leopardus pardalis), also known as the dwarf leopard, is a wild cat distributed extensively over South America including the islands ofTrinidad and Margarita, Central America, and Mexico. It has been reported as far north as Texas. North of Mexico, it is found regularly only in the extreme southern part of Texas, although there are rare sightings in southern Arizona.
The ocelot is similar in appearance to a domestic cat. Its fur resembles that of a clouded leopard or jaguar and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of ocelots were once killed for their fur. The feline was classified as a vulnerable species from 1972 until 1996, and is now rated “least concern” by the 2008 IUCN Red List.
The name ocelot comes from the Nahuatl word ōcēlōtl (pronounced /oːˈseːloːt͡ɬ/), which usually refers to the jaguar (Panthera Onca) rather than the ocelot.
The ocelot’s genus Leopardus consists of nine species similar to the ocelot, such as Geoffroy’s cat and the margay, which are also endemic to South and Central America. All of the cats in Leopardus are spotted, lithe, and small, with the ocelot being the biggest.
The following are the currently recognised subspecies of ocelot:
Leopardus pardalis pardalis, Amazon Rainforest
Leopardus pardalis aequatorialis, northern Andes and Central America
Leopardus pardalis albescens, eastern Mexico, southern Texas
Leopardus pardalis melanurus, Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad
Leopardus pardalis mitis, Argentina, Paraguay
Leopardus pardalis nelsoni, southwestern Mexico
Leopardus pardalis pseudopardalis, Colombia
Leopardus pardalis puseaus, Ecuador
Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis, northwestern Mexico, southern Arizona
Leopardus pardalis steinbachi, Bolivia
Certain ocelot subspecies are officially endangered, although the species as a whole is not.
The ocelot ranges from 68 to 100 centimetres (27 to 39 in) in length, plus 26 to 45 centimetres (10 to 18 in) in tail length, and typically weighs 8 to 18 kilograms (18 to 40 lbs), although much larger individuals have occasionally been recorded,making it the largest of the Leopardus genus. It has sleek, smooth fur, rounded ears and relatively large front paws. While similar in appearance to the oncilla and margay, which inhabit the same region, the ocelot is larger.
The coat pattern of ocelots can vary, being anything from cream to reddish-brown in colour, or sometimes greyish, and marked with black rosettes. In many individuals, some of the spots, especially on the back, blend together to form irregular curved stripes or bands. The fur is short, and paler than the rest of the coat beneath. There are also single white spots, called ocelli, on the backs of the ears. Two black stripes line both sides of the face, and the long tail is banded by black.
Ecology and behaviour