8 Mystical Ocelot Facts

Small ocelot crouches on a tree branch

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The ocelot, or Leopardus pardalis, is a wild cat that lives in Central and South America and a few parts of the Southwestern United States. Though they are often confused with jaguars or leopards, the ocelot is much smaller than the two — but can grow to be about twice as big as a domesticated house cat.

Sometimes known as dwarf leopards, ocelots can be identified by their unique markings and spots. They prefer to live in brushy, forested areas where they can hide and take cover in trees and bushes. Ocelots are carnivores, so their main diet consists of small mammals, rodents, and birds, though they occasionally eat fish, lizards, and monkeys. Aside from mating season and offspring-rearing, most ocelots live alone for most of their lives and are quite protective of their territory. In the wild, their lifespan can be as long as 7-10 years.

The ocelot certainly is an intriguing animal, and the following facts will make you want to learn more about these unique cats.

1. Ocelots Live in Rainforests

Ocelot lying down in greenery

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Though these cats have been spotted in states like Texas and Arkansas, they are typically indigenous to the rainforests of Central and South America. The lush, tree-lined canopies and warm climate are ideal for the ocelot and provide the perfect habitat to suit its nomadic, solitary lifestyle. They often travel at night, which is also their most active time for hunting and tracking. They may roam as far as 2 miles in search of food. Despite the above average rainfall and abundance of large predators, ocelots thrive in this type of environment.

2. Ancient Peruvians Once Worshipped the Cat

Examples of artwork in parts of Peru show that ancient peoples once worshipped and celebrated this special cat. The Moche people, in particular, who were renowned artisans and craftsmen, showed depictions of the ocelot in metal work and murals. Their religion also venerated other animals like birds, fish, snakes, and frogs, and one of their deities was a half man, half-jaguar god.

3. Every Ocelot Coat Is Unique

Ocelot walking along a tree branch

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No two ocelots have the same markings on their fur. Their spots, which are sometimes referred to as rosettes, are dark brown to black and the fur underneath is usually a golden tan or light yellowy brown. When ocelots are first born, their eyes are blue and they appear more dark grey in color, but as they grow, their spots and markings begin to take on a more defined, trademark look. They also have ringed bars along the full length of their tails. Sadly, ocelots are hunted for the fur trade, which has resulted in a decline in ocelot populations in certain regions.

4. Ocelots Are Picky Eaters

Ocelots are primarily carnivores. Their large teeth and paws, as well as keen vision and ability to move fast, make them adaptable to hunt a variety of prey. In general, they hunt rabbits, rodents, and birds. They are known to remove all the fur and feathers off their prey before ingesting them. A tongue with a sandpaper-like coating allows them to remove all of the meat from bones and lick them clean. If they don't finish eating their meal in one sitting, they may cover the carcass from other animals and come back for it at another time or haul it up into the tree, away from any competition.

5. Their Name Comes From an Aztec Word

It is thought that the word ocelot comes from the Aztec word "tlalocelot" which means "field tiger." The Aztecs, along with many other indigenous cultures of the region, honored this wild cat and revered it for its hunting prowess and beauty. Depictions of ocelots are present in numerous examples of mythology, art, jewelry, and pottery across Central and South American cultures.

6. They Are Nocturnal

Ocelots do most of their hunting and activity under the cover of darkness. During the day, they seek out safe, sheltered areas. They also seek shelter when it's time to rear their young. Because of their territorial nature, they observe and patrol an area in the daylight in preparation for their hunt. They sleep in densely forested areas like tree branches, protected dens, and shrubby bushes, where they can camouflage themselves and remain hidden. While they have excellent vision and hearing, which makes it easy to track food, they rely mostly on the scent trails that other animals leave behind.

7. Females Are Called Queens

Ocelot, leopardus pardalis, Female with Cub
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Female ocelots, which are slightly smaller and lighter than the males, usually live on their own except during mating season. They weigh about 25 pounds at full maturity and are usually about 3 to 4 feet in length. Ocelots generally mate year-round, but only stay together for a few days. After mating, the male, also known as torn, goes off to cover his territory. The female carries the pregnancy for a little over two months before giving birth, and then raises the kittens on her own. Though kittens can have strong teeth at a very young age, it does take several weeks before their eyes fully open. Usually the offspring remain with their mothers for about two years and she won't have another litter until the first one has matured and gone off.

8. Ocelots Are Resourceful Communicators

Aside from scent exchanges and body gestures, ocelots may also use sound to communicate. Like other wild cats, ocelots have adapted vocal chords that allow them to express a range of sounds and vibrations. During mating periods especially, male ocelots use a variety of meows and growls to signal their potential mates. And while they can purr, ocelots don't roar the way lions or tigers do. Each call, cry, or meow, along with the corresponding body language, signifies a specific message. The various types of sounds can mean anything, from a display of affection to a request to a warning for a predator to back away.

View Article Sources
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