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The Ocelot - Leopardus pardalis, or Dwarf Leopard

Updated on September 3, 2019
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw has 7 cats at present, he loves cats all, both large and small.

Leopardus pardalis - the Ocelot

Exceedingly beautiful and rebounded from stupid whims of human fashion, the ocelot is a master of rodent control. The ocelot looks a lot like a house cat, but these are very wild cats. Master killers and absolute obligate carnivores, as all cats are, the ocelot was decimated in numbers for ugly women and men to have their lovely fur coats. Thankfully, it became a crime to kill the ocelot, and now their numbers multiply.

Who wouldn't want a house cat that looks like a leopard? I would. A pet ocelot won't work though. I've seen ocelots rescued that you can adopt. No that doesn't mean you will be taking the cat home, it means if you donate cash to the cat rescue you can come and visit as often as you like. This isn't a bad thing.

A beautiful ocelot


The ocelot is a cat of the Americas. Mostly though, you will never see one in the USA, and you'll never see a wild one in Canada unless the cat has broken out of a zoo. Ocelots are common throughout the northern two thirds of South America, then up through central America, and the Gulf coastal areas of Mexico.

Once ocelots were common to southern Texas. Reports are in they're now starting to re-inhabit the southern parts of the lone star state. Surprisingly and encouragingly, ocelots have been spotted in Arizona, and not in the zoo, in the wild. This seems to make it likely they're somewhere in New Mexico as well.

Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis - This ocelot was spotted in Arizona

Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis
Leopardus pardalis sonoriensis

From the pictures I'm providing on this page, one doesn't get much in the way of discerning how big of a cat an ocelot is. I think a lot of that has to do with how an ocelot's features so resemble those of a house cat. These cats are larger and more powerful than any house cat. Some of them weigh in rather heavy, ocelots as heavy as forty pounds have been recorded frequently, sometimes they're even larger and heavier.

Ocelots typically go from twenty seven to thirty nine inches in length for the body. Their tails add from ten inches to a foot and a half in length. Generally they weigh between eighteen and forty pounds, and are the largest cat of the Leopardus genus.

Geoffroy's cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) - NOT an ocelot, this cat is a smaller relative


Plainly, an actual leopard, or even a jaguar, for that matter, are not in the same genus as is the ocelot. Ocelots are nocturnal hunters, and extremely fierce protectors of their marked territories. They will fight other ocelots for their territory - and sometimes to the death of one. Like almost any cat, the territory is marked with urine, but claw marks on trees and such are also used as boundary signs. Then there are the feces, feces are rather obvious territorial markers. Strangely enough, and as it happens, while the ocelots spend their days resting in trees, they may just share the resting tree with a same sex ocelot. I suppose they head off in opposite directions during the nights for the hunts.

The opposite sex ocelots only ever socialize for mating. Females will occupy smaller territories, and they'll sometimes overlap with other female ocelots. If seeing ocelots in the wild is your dream, then there is one specific location where there are more ocelots per square mile than anywhere else, and that place is Barro Colorado Island. How many ocelots are there on this island? There are slightly more than three of these beautiful cats for every two square miles. Why do they tolerate living in such 'packed quarters' on Barro Colorado island? There is enough for them all to eat there, that is why. Well, there are other factors - it's hard to get off the island for the ocelots, and there are strict prohibitions against poaching on the island. There is also the issue of there neither being jaguars nor panthers on the island. The bigger cats visit, but they can swim away easier than can an ocelot.

Male and female ocelots


Ocelot kills an Iguana

Just as wolves will kill coyotes and foxes, sometimes eating the foxes - because they pose direct threats to what the wolves perceive as their own sources of food; jaguars and cougars will sometimes kill ocelots for the exact same reasons. Ocelots have outstanding night vision, but the eyes aren't the only thing they use to track down a meal, their noses are also very good at picking up on the scents of things they might like to eat.

What does an ocelot eat? Well, it is a cat, after all, and that means it only eats meat. A cat is always and forever an obligate carnivore. Any cat will kill and eat anything it can overpower. For the ocelots, this includes each and every rodent, bird, lizard or amphibian it encounters and pounces on. As is usual with predators, the ocelots find rabbits to be absolutely delicious. Now an iguana is a lizard that gets a bit bigger in size than most of the people in the US would probably realize. I've always known people eat iguanas in South America, and so it was only logical that the ocelots enjoy eating them as well. As is typical with all out predators such as any cat, the ocelot can kill and eat things which are larger than they are, and an iguana is no different.

There is no room for mercy or pity in an animal's dinner fare. Still, I kind of find it sad that the ocelots feast on sloths. I'm making the error here of humanizing a sloth, but ocelots definitely eat sloth whenever they're hungry and they can.

Of course the diet of any ocelot is relative to where it lives. North American ocelots have fewer choices we'd deem exotic here. Here in North America they eat things we'd likely applaud, lots of rodents make their way into the belly of ocelots, and I wish for them to eat many more, and perhaps even travel North up my way some.

Ocelot mom and kitten


Unlike your house cat, an ocelot doesn't reproduce so frequently. They may mate at any time during any year, but they only reproduce about once every other year. If a female ocelot loses a litter, then she may or may not have another litter in the same year. When she goes into heat this last a week to ten days, and of course, it is something of a buffet for the males in the area. A buffet with brawls included, as you can well imagine.

The thing about ocelot litters is the word litter is more often than not misleading. A female ocelot usually has exactly one kitten. So you can see why killing any of these cats, I hope, is a very bad idea. Especially if the killing of the cat is for a reason so petty as a fashionable bit of clothing. One kitten ever other year isn't a high rate of reproduction, in fact, it is very very slow in comparison to something like a feral pig.

A bit of a cave, a hollowed out tree trunk, a very thick thicket, those are the sorts of places the mother will den up. She stays pregnant for about eighty days before giving birth. As many as three kittens born is something that does happen, but more than a single kitten born is rare. Father ocelot? Oh he is what you call a real cat daddy, I suppose you can infer what that is all about. Mother ocelot? She is a real champion of motherhood, by necessity. Ocelot kittens grow considerably slower than do cats of other species. The kittens will stay by mother's side for around two full years before venturing out on their own to face the ocelot's lot in the jungles and such.

Ocelots can live to twenty years in captivity. How long they live in the wild is a shorter time, as there are the bigger cats who are not overly fond of ocelot competition. The dense cover of vegetation the ocelots prefer to live and hunt within can make them rather hard to spot, but deforestation is always a threat in South America. More northern living ocelots have adapted to hunting in less thickly covered areas. While I insist that an ocelot is never a pet, some weirder ones among us have, of course, disagreed with the notion. Thanks for reading.

Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot


© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks Ann! I think these ocelots are about the best looking cats anywhere. Wish I could just snuggle one for a little while :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Only Salvador Dali could have a pet ocelot!

      I love this cat, even the name is appealing. Their markings are wonderful.

      I enjoyed reading this informative hub and I like this series of yours on various animals. I'm trying to catch up on them!

      Have a great Wednesday and a great week!


    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks emge! I'd love to see one of those tigers...but only from a safe distance!

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Great post. India is home to a number of these species.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 years ago from now on

      Yes, well you do WOW "usalot" :-)

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks! I missed all of I'm trying to make up for lost time :)

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 years ago from now on

      Wes, you really know how to WOW us a lot!


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