The Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is the best known of the South American cats. They live in rain forests, montane forests, thick bush, semi-deserts, coastal marsh, and along river banks. Ocelots are found in Central and South America—except for Chile—and in southern Texas.
Ocelots eat nocturnal rodents, armadillos, lesser anteaters, deer, squirrel monkeys and land tortoises. During the wet season they will also prey on fish and land crabs. Sometimes ocelot will dine on birds or reptiles.
From the time of the Aztecs, the ocelot was hunted for its distinct pelt. (The fur trade is now outlawed.) The markings of ocelots are blotches of darker color surrounded by black outlines. Sometimes these spots run together to form stripes. Ocelot base fur color ranges from yellow/cream to darker yellow/brown and can vary by habitat and is lighter on the belly and throat. Similar to some other cats, they have black ear backs with a spot in the center, in this case yellow. Ocelots have black rings on their tails. On their cheeks they have 2 stripes; a stripe runs from the top of the eye over the head.
Ocelots range in length from 38 to 60 inches (including tail), yet only weight 20 to 35 pounds. They stand 16 to 20 inches tall. They have good night vision and hearing, and have retractable claws. The ocelot swims well. They are territorial and solitary animals (except for a female with kittens).
Fun Ocelot Facts
- Its name came from the Mexican Aztec word tlalocelot, which means field tiger.
- The ocelot is considered a medium sized cat.
- Ocelots are endangered by illegal hunting, both for their furs and to capture them for exotic pets, and by loss of habitat. In the US they are often killed by cars when crossing a road.
- During the day ocelots sleep on a branch, in a hollow tree, or in dense vegetation.
- Ocelot litters (1 to 4 kittens) are born once every two years to a female.
- Without teeth for chewing, ocelots tear their food to pieces and swallow it whole.
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