I've Got My Eye On You

Lisa G. Putman

Joined November 2007

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This sly Ocelot had his eyes fixed on a bird. Seconds after this shot was taken, he was up in a tree after it.

The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), pronounced /ˈɒsəˌlɒt/, also known as the Painted Leopard, McKenney’s Wildcat, Jaguatirica (in Brazil), Jaguarete (in Paraguay and Argentina), Tigrillo (in Ecuador and Colombia), Cunaguaro (in Venezuela), or Manigordo (in Costa Rica and Panama) is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. North of Mexico, it is only found regularly 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 a “vulnerable” endangered species from 1972 until 1996, but is now rated “least concern” by the 2008 IUCN Red List.

The name ocelot comes from the Nahuatl word ōcēlōtl (pronounced [oːˈseːloːtɬ]), which usually refers to the Jaguar (Panthera onca) rather than the Ocelot.

The Ocelot ranges from 68 to 100 centimetres (27 to 39 in) in length, plus 26 to 45 centimetres (10 to 18 in) tail length, and typically weighs 8 to 10 kilograms (18 to 22 lb), although much larger individuals have occasionally been recorded,8 making it the largest of the generally dainty Leopardus wild cat genus. It has sleek 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.

It has the lowest resting body temperature of any feline.

The coat pattern of ocelots is relatively variable, being anything from cream to reddish-brown in color, or sometimes grey, and marked with black spots and rosettes. In many individuals, some of the spots, especially on the back, blend together to form irregular stripes or bands. The fur is short, and pale or white beneath. There are also single white spots, called ocelli, on the backs of the ears, and there are two black lines on either side of the face. It has a black-banded tail.

The Ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. It will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes. In addition, the cat marks its territory with especially pungent urine. Like most felines, it is solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day it rests in trees or other dense foliage, and will occasionally share its spot with another Ocelot of the same sex. Males occupy territories of 3.5 to 46 square kilometres (1.4 to 18 sq mi), while females occupy smaller, non-overlapping territories of 0.8 to 15 square kilometres (0.31 to 5.8 sq mi). Territories are marked by urine spraying and by leaving feces in prominent locations, sometimes favouring particular latrine sites.

The Ocelot will sometimes take to the trees.

Ocelots hunt over a range of 18 km2 (7 sq mi), taking mostly small mammals (deer, various rodents), reptiles and amphibians (lizards, turtles and frogs), crab, birds and fish. Almost all of the prey that the Ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself, with rodents, rabbits, and opposums forming the largest part of the diet. Studies suggest that it follows and finds prey via odor trails, but the Ocelot also has very good vision, including night vision. The white rings around the Ocelot’s eyes help to reflect extra light into the eye at night.

Ocelots typically breed only once every other year, although the female may mate again shortly after losing a litter. Mating can occur at any time of year, and estrus lasts from seven to ten days. After mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket. Gestation lasts 79 to 82 days, and usually results in the birth of only a single kitten, with its eyes closed and a thin covering of hair. Litters of two or three kittens also occur, but are less common. The small litter size and relative infrequency of breeding make the ocelot particularly vulnerable to population loss.

Compared with other small cats, ocelot kittens grow quite slowly. They weigh around 250 grams (8.8 oz) at birth, and do not open their eyes for fifteen to eighteen days. They begin to leave the den at three months, but remain with their mother for up to two years, before dispersing to establish their own territory. Ocelots live for up to twenty years in captivity.

The Ocelot is distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. Countries in this range are: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Suriname, United States and Venezuela. It’s likely extinct in Uruguay.

The Ocelot once inhabited chaparral thickets of the Gulf Coast of south and eastern Texas, and could be found in Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas. In the United States, it now ranges only in several small areas of dense thicket in South Texas and is rarely sighted in Arizona. On November 7, 2009, an ocelot was photographed in the mountains of Cochise County, Arizona. This is the first such verifiable evidence of the feline’s presence in the state.

The Ocelot’s continued presence in the U.S. is questionable, as a result largely of the introduction of dogs, being shot by ranchers, the loss of habitat, and the introduction of highways. Young male Ocelots are frequently killed by cars during their search for a territory. The feline was classified a “vulnerable” endangered species from 1972 till 1996, but is now rated “least concern” by the 2008 IUCN Red List.

Ocelots only inhabit areas with relatively dense vegetation cover, although they may occasionally hunt in more open areas at night. They are found in tropical forest, thorn forest, mangrove swamps and savanna, at elevations ranging up to 1,200 metres (3,900 ft).

Artwork Comments

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