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Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

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Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are small-sized wildcats. They live in tropical, subtropical, and semi-arid regions of the Americas. Ocelots are carnivores of the Leopardus genus. Ocelots prey on small animals and live 7–13 years in the wild.

Ocelots are fascinating creatures that pique the curiosity of many wildlife enthusiasts.

These elegant wildcats almost went extinct due to human activity.[1] There are more than 1 million today.[2]

This article covers everything you need to know about ocelots, including size, appearance, habits, habitat, and diet.

5 Little Known Ocelot Facts

There are many exciting facts about ocelots: They are the second-largest spotted cats, they can’t roar roar, and they are fast compared to many other animals.

Ocelots are difficult to find in the wild. They are shy and reclusive animals. That’s why most people don’t know a lot about them.

Here are 5 interesting facts about ocelots:

  1. The heaviest ocelot weighed 44 pounds.
  2. A fur coat needs ~30 ocelots’ fur to produce
  3. Ocelots can’t roar as many other wildcats can.
  4. Ocelots can run 38 mph.
  5. Ocelots have 36 chromosomes.

1. The Heaviest Ocelot Was 44 pounds

The Heaviest Ocelot Was 44 pounds
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The documentation was in 2002.[3] This record-setting ocelot weighed as much as an average 6 years old child.

2. A Fur Coat Needs ~30 Ocelots’ Fur to Produce

Ocelots were hunted for their exotic spotted fur. They were once near extinction. Hunting has not been a problem for the ocelot population since the 80s.[4]

3. Ocelots Can’t Roar

Ocelots and other smaller cats, like housecats can’t roar. Only big cats like lions can roar. Ocelots can purr, while big cats cannot.[5]

4. Ocelots Can Run 38 mph

The ocelot’s top speed is fast at around 38 mph, but they are slow compared to cheetahs.[6] Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and can run 70mph. That’s 35 mph faster than ocelots.

5. Ocelots Have 36 Chromosomes

Ocelots Have 36 Chromosomes
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Ocelots have 36 chromosomes and are the only species of the family Felidae that don’t have 38.[7] Ocelots have ten chromosomes less than humans.

Ocelot Classification and Evolution

Ocelots are part of the family Felidae. Their genus, Leopardus consists of 8 species. The first ancestors of the ocelot are 8 million years old. There are 4 distinct types of ocelot population.

Ocelots are wildcats of the order Carnivora. Carl Linnaeus described their classification in 1758.

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyFelidae
SubfamilyFelinae
GenusLeopardus
SpeciesLeopardus pardalis
SubspeciesLeopardus pardalis pardalis,Leopardus pardalis mitis

Ocelot Relatives

Ocelots are distant relatives of every species in the Felinae subfamily. This includes animals like cheetahs and cougars.

The closest relatives of the ocelot are cats in the genus Leopardus. There are seven other species in this genus. The ocelot is the biggest of them.[8]

The 8 species of Leopardus:

  1. Ocelot
  2. Geoffroy’s Cat
  3. Andean Cat
  4. Margay
  5. Pampas Cat
  6. Northern Tiger Cat or Oncilla
  7. Southern Tiger Cat
  8. Kodkod or Guiña

Ocelot Evolution

Ocelot Evolution
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The ocelot descended from an extinct feline species in Asia. These ancestors have also evolved into Lynx, Cougar, Leopard Cat, and Domestic Cat.

The direct ancestor of the ocelot migrated to North America about 8 million years ago. The ocelot group split from them ~5 million years later, and evolved into 8 distinct species.

A possible ancestor of ocelots is the Felis lacustris or the Felis rexroadensis. Fossils of these species are 4-5 million years old.

Ocelots spread around the Americas 1.5-2.5 million years ago. While cheetahs and jaguars migrated to other regions, ocelots remained in the habitat they live in today.

Ocelot Species

There were once ten subspecies of ocelots, but only 2 are recognized nowadays. These are Leopardus pardalis pardalis and Leopardus pardalis mitis.

These two species are spread out across four regions:

  1. Central America and Mexico
  2. North-northwest South America
  3. North-northeast South America
  4. Southern South America

There are big differences in the ocelots’ genetic build between these four distinctive regions.

Ocelot Appearance and Anatomy

Ocelots are small-sized wildcats. They have tan fur on their back and white bellies. There are black botches all over their body. Ocelots weigh 24-35 pounds and grow to be 28-40 inches long. Males are bigger than females.

Ocelots’ appearance varies based on their habitat, but only a little. They generally look similar, no matter the region.[9]

Ocelot Appearance

Ocelot Appearance
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Ocelots have tan and orange fur, except for their white belly. Despite being called spotted cats, they have black botches and stripes all over their coat.

Ocelots are lean and nimble. They have big ears and eyes. Their claws are retractable and they have sharp incisor teeth.

Their long and striped tails are ~14 inches.

Ocelot Size

Twice as big as housecats, ocelots are the largest species of the Leopardus. Kittens can fit in the palms of an adult woman.[10]

OcelotLength in inches (excluding tail)Height in inches
Male28-4016-20
Female~3016-20
Kitten (5 weeks old)~12~6

Ocelot Weight

Adult male ocelots weigh ~24-39 pounds. They’re generally heavier than females.

OcelotWeight in pounds
Male24-39
Female14.5-25
Kitten (at birth)0.44-0.75

Ocelot Distribution and Habitat

Ocelots live in the continental Americas. They prefer warmer climates. They inhabit tropical and subtropical rainforests, semi-arid brushlands, and areas near water sources.

Ocelots are exclusive to South- and Central America, and the southern tip of the USA.

They prefer areas with heavy vegetation as it offers them hiding space.

Ocelot Distribution

Ocelot Distribution
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Ocelots live in almost all countries of the continental Americas. 

They are found in every country except Chile and Canada. Ocelots dislike Chile’s climate and there are few prey animals for them there. Canada’s weather is too cold for ocelots.

Ocelots in the USA only inhabit Texas and Arizona.

Related: Where Do Ocelots Live?

Ocelot Habitat

Ocelots live in areas with heavy vegetation and access to fresh water. These habitats offer ocelots many animals they like to hunt (like rodents) and hiding space for their dens.

Ocelots’ habitat includes:

  • Rainforests
  • Brushlands
  • Thornscrubs
  • Mangroves
  • Savannas

Ocelot Behaviour

Ocelots hunt at night and travel for up to 12 hours daily. They are solitary animals but come together to mate. Males have a territory of ~35 mi2 while females have ~9 mi2. Ocelots make dens in dense vegetation for their offspring.

While ocelots are territorial animals, male ocelot ranges overlap at least one female ocelot’s range, so they can come together to mate.

Ocelots usually only meet to mate, avoiding each other the rest of the year.

Ocelot Hunting Habit

Ocelot Hunting Habit
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Ocelots are nocturnal animals. They hunt at night and rest by day. They also hunt alone.

When hunting, ocelots pounce on their target and try to kill them instantly. They mainly look for prey on land, but they also climb trees or swim for food.

Ocelots hunt animals weighing 2.2 pounds. They occasionally go for bigger prey, like monkeys. 

They kill an animal about every 3 hours. When ocelots have had enough to eat, they will hide the carcass for later.

Ocelot Mating Habit

Ocelots communicate via scent when they want to mate. Males and females meet up and rub their cheeks and shoulders. They do occasionally play with each other.

Males and females meet five to ten times when mating, as it is difficult for females to get pregnant.

Ocelots mate all year round, but some evidence suggests mating seasons as male ocelots’ productivity peaks around summer.

Ocelot Dening Habit

Ocelot dens are located in dense vegetation. There’s only enough space inside to crawl for them.

They typically don’t have a home den. The only reason they use dens is for females to raise and protect their kittens.

Ocelot Prey and Diet

Ocelots eat small animals, like rodents, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, birds, and fish. They normally eat 1.2-1.9 pounds of meat daily.

Ocelots are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. They clean their targets before eating them.

Ocelot Prey

Rodents

Ocelots encounter different species based on their habitat, but the types of animals they eat are the same. They mostly attack animals weighing ~15% of their body mass.

Ocelots’ prey includes:

  • Rodents
  • Reptiles
  • Small mammals
  • Marsupials
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Crustaceans

Ocelot Daily Food Intake

Ocelots eat 1.2-1.9 pounds of meat per day. This is less than ten percent of their average weight.

Ocelots might eat more meat if they’re particularly hungry. If they haven’t found enough prey for several days, they often eat around one pound more after a successful hunt.

Ocelot Threats and Predators

Ocelots are victims of deforestation and loss of territory due to agriculture. They have no natural predators, but bigger cats sharing their habitat can attack them.

Ocelots were once hunted by humans for their fur, but nowadays it’s a much smaller concern.

Their small litter size of one to four kittens and difficulty to become pregnant is one of the major threats to their population.

Ocelot Habitat Threats

Ocelots are under threat of habitat loss. Rainforests are being cut down and plain areas are being used for agriculture.

The brushlands in the USA are almost eradicated.

Ocelot Predators

Jaguar

Ocelots don’t have predators, but they can encounter hostile animals.

Animals that might hunt ocelots include:

  • Jaguars
  • Cougars
  • Eagles (for kittens)
  • Boas
  • Anacondas

Ocelot Reproduction, Life Cycle, and Average Lifespan

Ocelots give birth to one to four kittens per litter. The kittens stay with their mother for up to two years. Ocelots live for ~7-13 years in the wild where they go through three life stages.

Females wait for one to two years between births. This averages ~5-6 litters per female throughout their lifetime.

Ocelot Reproduction

Ocelots are pregnant for 79-85 days. This is a long time compared to other small cats, like housecats (~60 days).

They usually give birth to one or two kittens per pregnancy. Rarely, they might give birth to three or four babies.

Ocelot Life Cycle

Ocelots go through three life stages called infant, subadult, and adult. They reach adulthood after two years.

Life StageAge in monthsCharacteristics
Infant0-7Gray fur at birth, starts walking at 3 weeks, leave the den at 6 weeks
Subadult7-24Independence at 24 months, sexual maturity for females at ~22 months
Adult>24Adult weight at ~40 months, sexual maturity for males at ~2.5 years 

Ocelot Average Lifespan

Ocelot Average Lifespan
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Ocelots live for 7-13 years in the wild on average. Some individuals live for up to 20 years.

They live longer in captivity as they are capable of reaching 28 years in extreme cases.

Ocelot Relationship with Humans

Ocelots avoid humans. They don’t consider us prey and are generally scared of us. An average adult is stronger than a mature ocelot.

While ocelots are generally afraid of humans, they shouldn’t be provoked. Their claws and teeth are still capable to harm us.

Adult ocelots are also bigger than young children. They don’t hunt for kids, but they can inflict serious harm on them.

Some poachers might hunt ocelots for their fur. They are also sometimes killed by farmers to defend their poultry.

Ocelot Population and Conservation

There are around a million ocelots alive today. There are fewer than 60 ocelots in the US as most ocelots live in Brazil and Argentina.

Predictions show the ocelot population to be a maximum of 1.5 million. 

While their population is decreasing, ocelots are classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Ocelots are a protected species in the US. Conservation strategies include relocating ocelots and to cooperate with farmers.

Ocelot Pictures

Ocelot Pictures

Ocelots look like each other regardless of habitat. They’re lean wildcats with long tails, big ears, and sharp claws.

Here are some pictures of ocelots.

FAQs

What Does Ocelot Mean?

The ocelot name comes from the Nahuatl “tlalocelot”, which means field tiger. Nahuatl is the language of the Aztec people. The Aztec Empire was in Central Mexico, where they met a lot of ocelots.

Do Ocelots Live Near Humans?

Yes, ocelots can live near human settlements. It’s rare to find them near cities, as they prefer areas with more vegetation. You can find ocelots near farms or less populated areas.

Can You Keep Ocelots As Pets?

It is not a good idea to keep ocelots as pets. They’re aggressive by nature. Ocelots need large space to roam. It is expensive to keep an ocelot in captivity.

Do Ocelots Eat Dogs?

Yes, ocelots sometimes eat dogs. Small breeds are often smaller than ocelots, so They’re not safe. Large breeds are much stronger than them, so ocelots avoid hunting bigger dogs.

Do Ocelots Live in Europe?

No, ocelots don’t live in Europe. They only live in the continental Americas. Ocelots need tropical, subtropical, and semi-arid climates, which can’t be found in Europe

Do Ocelots Live In Mountains?

No, Ocelots don’t live in mountains. There’s not enough vegetation for them and it doesn’t offer them enough prey. Ocelots prefer areas with thick vegetation where they can find small animals, like rodents.

What Was The Oldest Ocelot?

The oldest ocelot was 28 years old. This was a female ocelot who lived in captivity. The oldest male ocelot was 23 years old. Ocelots normally don’t live that long, and die ~13 years of age.

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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