Ocelots

What can you tell me about ocelots?

Appearance

The ocelot (with the scientific name Leopardus pardalis) is an animal of the cat family with a beautiful, dappled coat. Weighing an average of eight to fifteen kilograms, ocelots are about twice the size of normal house cats. These cats range in color from reddish gray to light yellow, and their coats also have dark stripes and spots. Their cheeks have dark stripes while their tails have darkly-colored rings.

Range and habitat

The animal is the only cat of medium size found in the subtropics, and it has a wide geographical range that spreads from southern Texas to Central America and most of South America including northern parts of Argentina. It occupies different habitats such as swampy forests, dry scrub, humid tropical forests and coastal mangrove. Ocelots may be found anywhere from sea level to high areas up to 1,200 meters above sea level.

Behavior and feeding

Ocelots are territorial and solitary cats that are mostly nocturnal and will be found resting in dense brush or trees during the day. During the night, the cats are highly active, traveling up to five miles in a single night. Males normally cover more ground than the females. But occasionally the cats hunt during the day, especially in the wet season and on overcast or cloudy days .Ocelots are the perfect ‘sit and wait’ hunters-and can stay motionless for up to an hour at a burrow site or den and then quickly shift to a different site to sit and wait again.

Ocelots are carnivorous and their main prey consists of small animals like rodents, rabbits, iguanas, snakes, young deer, frogs and fish. When hunting, an ocelot may capture one prey after about every three hours of travelling. They can also stalk birds and monkeys and they are known to feed on crabs in the flooded savannas of Venezuela.

Since most of their prey lives on the ground, an ocelot can use debris to cover big carcasses which they will eat later .Unlike the majority of other cats, ocelots are quite at home in water and they are great swimmers. In spite of their carnivorous nature, a percentage of their diet (about twenty percent) also comprises of grass. This is a characteristic shared by many cats in the western hemisphere.

Just like other cats, the teeth of an ocelot are highly adapted for meat eating. Their pointed fangs are ideal for delivering a killing bite, and the back teeth are sharp to tear meat like scissors. An ocelot’s teeth are not suitable for chewing, which means the food is torn to pieces before being swallowed whole. The tongue is raspy to ensure that every last bit of flesh is cleaned off the bones.

Breeding

Female ocelots give birth to litters of two or three dark-colored kittens. In the northern regions of their geographical range, for example the US, autumn is usually the breeding season. But in the tropics, ocelots do not have a fixed breeding season.

Protection

The sleek and gorgeous fur of the ocelot has made it a favorite target for hunters. This has led to the cat becoming very rare, and in Texas it is an endangered species.The population of ocelots has also declined in the recent past as a result of the destruction of their habitat due to human activities like logging and farming. The ocelot is now a protected animal in the US and in many other countries where it is found.

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