The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) occupies a variety of different habitats, which range from dry Mountain regions in Central America to dense tropical rain forests in the Amazon Basin. The ocelot currently ranges from southern Texas to northern Argentina and Ecuador. The ocelot does not inhabit the high plateaus of southern Peru, and there is no record of it being found in Chile.
The ocelot is the largest of the small spotted leopards, about the size of the bobcat (Lynx rufus). It weighs 11-16kg, respectively, and has a body length of about 70-100 cm and has fairly long tail (27-45 cm). Their primary coat color ranges from a light tan to a reddish brown with multiple black spots and streaks. The ocelot closely resembles the margay (Leopard wiedii) (Trolle and Kery 2003; Murray and Gardner 1997).
Ontogeny and Reproduction
Physical maturity is achieved at 20-23 months and sexual maturity may occur as early as 16-18 months. Age at first reproduction may be influenced by ecological factors such as food abundance and density of other adult females. Estrus in females occurs 7-10 days with no conception. They may go through several estrous periods between conceptions, yet when conception takes place, estrous is reduced to 5 days. Gestation usually lasts for about 79 to 90 days (Murray and Gardner 1997). Newborn ocelots are fully marked, but coats are grey and their lower limbs are a dark brown to black color. Liter sizes are usually 1 to 2 and rare occurrences of 3 to 4 have been documented. Females are responsible for raising young; the males provide no parental care (Murray and Gardner 1997).
Ecology and Behavior
Although ocelots occupy a variety of habitats, they are by no means habitat specialists. They are however associated with areas of dense vegetation and forest cover. Ocelots will hunt in trees, but are more efficient on the ground. They are solitary animals and typically nocturnal (Trolle and Kery 2003; Murray and Gardner 1997). Activity is correlated with daytime weather conditions and moon light intensity at night. They hunt very secretively and stay concealed from prey. Their prey consists largely of small to medium sized mammals, some birds and occasionally amphibians and some reptiles. Mammals account for 88% of the total volume of their diet, with spiny rats the most frequent prey item (De Villa Meza et al., 2002; Murray and Gardner 1997).
The home ranges of adult males are larger than home ranges of adult females in the same area. Territories of adult males overlap that of adult females, but females rarely overlap each other. Sub-adults will live in their mother’s home range until they can establish a home range of their own.
The greatest threat to the ocelot in all areas of its range is habitat degradation. The development by humans for agriculture, timber harvesting, city expansion and other economically related issues are what puts pressure on the ocelot and its resources. The ocelot historically was trapped and hunted for its skin and has been one of the most heavily exploited cats in international trade (Murray and Gardner 1997).
. They are extremely popular in zoos and in pet trade. The ocelot is protected by many international regulations, but the enforcement is almost non-existent. Yet the United States passed laws to prevent illegal trade of the ocelot and has organized a conservation effort.
De Villa Meza, A., E. M. Meyer, and C. A. Lopez Gonzelez. 2002. Ocelot (Leopard pardalis) Food Habits in a Tropical Deciduous Forest of Jalisco, Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist 148:146-154.
Murray, J. L., and G. L. Gardner. 1997. Mammalian Species Account. The American Society of Mammalogists. 548, 1-10.
Trolle, M., and M. Kery. 2003. Estimation of Ocelot Density in the Pantanal Using Capture-Release Analysis of Camera-Trapping Data. Journal of Mammalogy 84: 607-614.
Reference written by Adam Remus, Biology 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. Edited by Christopher Yahnke. Page last updated August 8, 2005.