Small, spotted cats of the genus Leopardus belong to the family Felidae. The genus includes eight species of cats, the smallest being the kodkod and the largest being the ocelot. The kodkod is also the smallest cat species living in the Americas. Below is a list that describes the unique features of the eight species of the Leopardus genus.
The Leopardus colocolo is a small species of cat that ranges in central and northern Chile where it is found on the western slopes of the Andes. Seven subspecies of this species have been recognized. The cat is small and stocky with a body length of 56 to 67 cm and a tail length of 29 to 32 cm. The average weight of the cat is around 3 kg. The nominate subspecies, L. c. colocolo, has dark gray to reddish fur with rusty-cinnamon colored stripes on the flanks, black spots on the chest, tail with reddish rings, white underparts, and legs with dark brown colored stripes. Small mammals like guinea pigs and small birds constitute the majority of their diet. The species is labeled as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.
7. Geoffroy's Cat
The Leopardus geoffroyi ranges in parts of southern and central South America. The wild cat is similar in size to a domestic cat. The coat color varies from grayish in the southern parts of its range to brownish-yellow in the north. The head, neck, face, tail, and legs of the cat feature numerous dark bands and black spots. The underparts are cream-colored to white. This species of Leopardus is found at elevations between sea-level and 3,300 m. Scrublands, grasslands, open woodlands, and marshes are the preferred habitats for these animals. They are found at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,800 feet. The cats are the apex predators in the ecosystem they inhabit and prey on rodents, insects, fish, amphibians, and lizards. The Geoffroy's cat exhibits the unique behavior of standing up on its hind legs using the tail as a support. In this position, the cat scans the surrounding landscape.
The Leopardus guigna is the smallest cat found in the Americas. It inhabits the mixed temperate rainforests in central and southern Chile and parts of Argentina adjoining Chile. The cat is active both during the day and night but avoids coming out in the open during the day. It feeds on a wide variety of rodents, small birds, lizards, etc., in its habitat. It is able to climb trees efficiently. The cat has a small head, and its size ranges from 37 to 51 cm. The kodkod has a fur color ranging from gray-brown to brownish-yellow. It has a thick tail and large feet. The fur features dark spots which merge at the neck and shoulders to appear as dotted streaks. There are two subspecies of the kodkod, the Leopardus guigna guigna and the Leopardus guigna tigrillo.
5. Southern Tiger Cat
The Leopardus guttulus is a cat species that is found in the South American countries of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The wild cat is strikingly similar in appearance to the oncilla and till 2013, it was not considered as a separate species. The southern tiger cat has yellow-ochre colored coat and black rosettes. Although it is difficult to distinguish the southern tiger cat from the oncilla, the former has fur with a darker background, larger rosettes, and smaller tail. The species is recognized as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.
4. Andean Mountain Cat
The Leopardus jacobita is an Endangered species of Leopardus that inhabits the higher altitudes (1,800 m to 4,000 m) in the Andes mountains. The size of the adult cats of this species ranges from 57.7 to 85 cm. The cat has an ashy-gray fur, black nose and lips and white areas around the lips and cheeks. The flanks feature yellowish-brown blotches. The forelegs feature dark spots and the hind legs feature dark rings. Dark brown colored lines stretch from the corners of the eyes of these cats to their cheeks. The tail is bushy with 6 to 9 brown to black rings. These animals mainly feed on the mountain viscacha. The Andean mountain cat is recognized as an “Endangered” species by the IUCN. Only about 2,500 individuals of this species survive in the wild today. Habitat loss and degradation, and hunting are the main threats to the Andean mountain cat population.
The Leopardus pardalis, a Leopardus species with ten subspecies, is found extensively in South America, Central America, Mexico, and some parts of southern US. Within its range, the ocelot occupies a wide range of habitats including mangroves, savanna, thorn forests, tropical forests, etc. The cat is the largest Leopardus species. It was once hunted indiscriminately for its fur but the protection of this species helped recover the population to a level that the ocelot is now labeled as a “Least Concern” species in the IUCN Red List. The size of the cat ranges from 55 to 100 cm. The underparts and neck of the cat are white. The color of the dorsal surface varies from creamy to reddish gray to gray. The tail of the ocelot is thin and striped or ringed. Black spots, bands, and stripes mark the coat of the cat. The eyes are brown in color. The ocelots are crepuscular and nocturnal in nature. They lead solitary lives and mark their territories by scent-marking, piling up their dung, and spraying urine. Opossums, rodents, small birds, armadillos, reptiles, and insects constitute the prey base of these wild cats.
2. Oncilla/Northern Tiger Cat
The Leopardus tigrinus is a cat species that inhabits the cloud forests, sub-tropical highland forests, scrublands and the cerrado of Central America to central Brazil in South America. The cats range in size from 38 to 59 cm from head to base of the tail and weigh around 1.5 to 3 kg. The fur color is dark ochre to light brown and is spotted with black or brown colored rosettes. The underparts are pale in color and spotted and the tail is ringed. The legs of the oncilla are also spotted with the size of the spots decreasing down the leg. The cat hunts by stalking its prey and then pounces on it to kill it. The cat feeds on rodents, lizards, small birds, tree frogs, etc. The oncilla is further classified into four subspecies. These animals are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List as habitat loss, deforestation, and poaching threatens the survival of the species.
The Leopardus wiedii is a cat species that inhabits the evergreen and deciduous forests of South and Central America. These cats have a brown colored fur with black rosettes and streaks. The underparts are buff to white in color. The tail features dark bands and is black at the tip. The margay closely resembles the ocelot but is distinguished from the same by the presence of a longer tail and legs, smaller head, and bigger eyes. The species weighs around 2.6 to 4 kg. The animal spends most of its life on trees but occasionally comes to the ground. It is a strictly nocturnal species that hunt monkeys, birds, tree frogs, lizards, etc. The species is one of the two cat species that can efficiently climb down a tree head-first. They are solitary creatures that mark territory by urinating and leaving scratch marks on objects in their territory. The cats have been reported using auditory mimicry whereby they mimic the sound of the prey species to deceive prey to move towards them. Ten subspecies of the margay have been recognized. The cat is recognized as “Near Threatened” as capture for the illegal pet trade, hunting, and habitat loss threaten the existence of the species.