The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a small wildcat that is widely-distributed all throughout South America, and has even been seen as far north as Mexico and Texas. It's also called the dwarf leopard due to its appearance, and the word Ocelot comes from the Nahuatl word ocelotl, which the ancient peoples of Mexico used to refer to the Jaguar. This is due to its fierce, territorial nature, and it will fight to the death to defend its territory.
Ocelots can grow up to 39 inches (100 cm) in body length, with an 18-inch (45 cm) tail. They can weigh up to 40 pounds (18 Kg), and there have been a few individuals measured who weighed even more. This makes it the largest cat of the Leopardus genus. Ocelots are solitary, nocturnal animals. They spend time in each other's company usually only for the purposes of mating, and at all other times will defend their territory. Territory is marked by spraying urine. However, during the day Ocelots rest in trees or dense brush, and during this down-time they will occasionally deign to share their resting spot with other Ocelots of the same gender.
Male Ocelots claim territories of up to 18 square miles (46 square kilometers), while female Ocelots have smaller, overlapping territories of about 6 square miles (15 square kilometers). They prey on small animals like rodents, opossums, rabbits, turtles, frogs, lizards and birds. They use their keen senses of smell and eyesight to track their prey.
There are currently ten recognized subspecies of Ocelot:
- Leopardus pardalis pardalis (Amazon)
- Leopardus pardalis aequatorialis (Central America, northern Andes)
- Leopardus pardalis albescens (eastern Mexico and southern Texas)
- Leopardus pardalis melanurus (Trinidad, Guyana, Venezuela)
- 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)
Ocelots will usually breed once every other year, although a female who has lost her litter may be ready to breed again soon after. Female Ocelots will give birth to a litter of one kitten after a 82-day gestation period. Litters of two or three kittens have happened, but are very rare. Ocelot kittens develop relatively slowly, which is why their mothers keep them in the birthing den for three months. They'll stay with her until they're about two years old, before striking out to establish their own territory.
Ocelots have historically been prized for their fur, and as a result hundreds of thousands were killed for their pelts. During a period from 1972 to 1996, they were considered a vulnerable species on the verge of extinction, but have since made a recovery in their populations. Due to their mating cycles and litter sizes, even now the overall Ocelot population would not be quick to recover from a similar blow. They are still vulnerable to illegal poaching and deforestation.