Ocelot Facts

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Classification and Evolution

The ocelot has become a major conservation success story.

© Ana Cotta / Creative Commons

The ocelot is a medium-sized small cat native to the jungles of South America. The ocelot is also known as the painted leopard because of the beautiful and distinctive markings on its fur, as it displays dark rosettes, as well as spots and stripes. Similar in color to the much smaller but closely related ocelot, the ocelot was an animal that was nearly extinct in the 20th century because they were usually hunted for their fur. Today, however, national protection over much of its natural range means ocelot populations have recovered somewhat. Ocelots are strong and agile animals that not only climb and run well, but they are also good swimmers as they are not afraid of water like many other cats.

anatomy and appearance

Leopard cats are also known as "painted leopards" because of their intricate and beautiful patterns.

© Danleo / Creative Commons

The ocelot is a short, thick animal with soft, usually tawny to reddish-gray fur, with black chain rosettes on the back and sides. They have black spots on their legs and stripes on their heads and faces that are unique to the individual. They have a long tail, usually with a dark ring and large claws related to their size. Like all cats (except cheetahs), ocelots can retract their paws into protective pouches to keep them from getting dull when moving around. Males tend to be much larger than females and can grow up to a meter long with tails that are half the length of their bodies. Leopard cats have sharp front teeth for biting prey, and blade-like teeth on their cheeks for shredding food.

Distribution and Habitat

amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is home to the most ocelots in the world.


Ocelots are found throughout tropical South America, but are most common in the dense jungles of the Amazon Basin. However, they are fairly common and inhabit a variety of habitats from southern Texas to northern Argentina. Ocelots are extremely adaptable animals and can be found in a variety of habitats, including tropical forests, grasslands, mangroves, and swamps, provided there is plenty of lush vegetation there. While ocelots typically live below 1,200 meters above sea level, they have also been known to inhabit the high slopes of the Andes, at altitudes as high as 3,800 meters. As strong swimmers, they are also sometimes found in seasonally flooded forests, and they have been reported to live near human settlements.

Behavior and Lifestyle

As cute as they may be, ocelots are fierce predators.

© Chordata/Creative Commons

Leopard cats are solitary animals with a range of up to 30 square kilometers depending on the surrounding environment. Males typically patrol twice as much territory as females and overlap with many females' home ranges (males have breeding rights). Ocelots are nocturnal animals, sleeping during the day either in dense vegetation or on the branches of tall, leafy trees. They have excellent senses of sight, touch and hearing, which all help them when hunting at night, and they communicate with each other using a soft meow that turns into a loud roar when they are looking for a mate. The ocelot is an extremely cryptic animal, very rare in some parts of its natural range, and relies heavily on dense vegetation, venturing into open areas only at night.

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You can check out incredible facts about ocelots.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Ocelot kittens are born blind like house cats.

© Martin Wright/Flickr

In the heart of the tropics, ocelots breed year-round, but at the extreme northern and southern ends of their natural range, the breeding season tends to occur in late summer. After mating, the female ocelot will find a place in a rock crevice, in a hollow tree, or in a dense thorny bush to have some privacy and protection as she prepares to give birth. After about 85 days in the womb, a female ocelot will give birth to up to 3 kittens, which are born blind and with a thin layer of dark fur instead of their recognizable stripes and spots. After about a month, ocelot kittens will be able to see their surroundings, and their fur will become thicker and more vibrant. Although Ocelot kittens are fully grown and independent by their first year of age, they are usually tolerated within their mother's home confines for a few years before they leave to establish their own territories.

diet and prey

Ocelots are carnivores, which means they forage for food in the shadows of the night, and they do this primarily by stalking their prey on the forest floor in the safety of dense foliage. Although small rodents make up a large portion of their diet, they have been known to hunt a variety of small animals, including rabbits, birds, fish, crabs, lizards and snakes, and sometimes even small deer. Ocelots are also known to eat monkeys, turtles, armadillos and anteaters. Ocelots have been known to cause problems by killing poultry when their typical food sources are not available. However, ocelots are happy to prey on many different invasive species, so they remain an important part of local ecosystems, and their diverse tastes also help them adapt more easily to changing habitats.

Predators and Threats

eastern cougar
The puma is one of the ocelot's staunchest opponents in the wild.

©Liz Weber/Shutterstock.com

Not only are ocelots an important predator in their environment, but they are also preyed upon by many large carnivores. Other cats, including jaguars and pumas, prey on smaller ocelots, as well as birds of prey such as harpy eagles and the world's largest snake, the boa constrictor. The distinctive and distinctive fur of the ocelot, while actually providing it with some camouflage in the dense vegetation around it, is also the same fur that has led to significant population declines across most of its historical range. Especially from the 1960s to the 1980s, ocelots were nearly extinct in the wild due to hunting for their fur (called pelts), while they were also captured and kept as exotic pets. Populations have increased since ocelots became a protected species in many countries, but they are now threatened by habitat deforestation.

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Ocelot Interesting Facts and Characteristics

Many people have tried to domesticate leopard cats.

© RawheaD Rex / Creative Commons

Like many other species of small wild cats, ocelots have been kept as pets by many people throughout history. The most famous of these was the abstract artist Salvador Dalí, who often traveled with his domesticated ocelot. Some people even think that Mr. Dali actually took his pet leopard cat on an ocean-going ship! The ocelot is also believed to have been worshiped by ancient Peruvian cultures (similar to how the ancient Egyptians worshiped cats), and these cultures would often depict beautiful ocelots in their artwork. Ocelots are thought to be active for at least 12 hours a day and can travel distances of up to 7 miles during this time, with males typically traveling twice as far as females.

relationship with humans

The ocelot is a protected species in most parts of the world.

© Maria Elena/Creative Commons

The ocelot was considered a sacred animal in ancient cultures, but its beautiful patterns and soft fur quickly caught the attention of hunters. Populations of ocelots have been severely reduced throughout their natural range, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when it is thought to have been hunted so extensively that as many as 200,000 leopard skins are traded annually for approximately $40,000 . Despite being a wild and dominant predator, the ocelot was also captured for sale into the exotic pet trade, which luckily stopped after the ocelot was listed as endangered. Although ocelots are now protected throughout their natural range in most countries and their numbers are increasing, populations, especially in certain areas, are being severely affected by increasing human activities, mainly deforestation and expanding settlements point.

Protect the status quo and life today

Today, ocelots are listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern for extinction in the natural environment in the near future. While some populations are small and unstable, ocelots are widespread, but overall populations are declining. This is largely due to habitat loss, as large swaths of the Amazon have been severely deforested and no longer provide the dense cover and ample food supply that ocelots need to survive.

Types of ocelots

Today's ocelots are divided into only 2 subspecies.

© Lady Rowena/Creative Commons

Taxonomists originally believed that ocelots could be divided into as many as nine different subspecies. These include:

  • Leopard
  • equatorial leopard
  • white leopard
  • black panther
  • Leopard
  • Leopard
  • Leopard
  • Leopard
  • Leopard

But today only the ocelot and the ocelot are generally considered distinct subgroups of the ocelot, with the former critically endangered and native to Arizona and Mexico, and the latter in greater abundance, inhabiting much of South America and some islands in the Caribbean.

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Corinna Seibel

My name is Corinna! In my profile photo you can see me with one of my two cats, Bisky! The other is Yma, a beautiful black Bombay cat. I'm 24 years old and live in Birmingham, Alabama with my partner, Anastasia, and enjoy making music, collecting records, and reading in my free time. Some of the other animals I own are a hamster, two chihuahuas, and many different kinds of fish.

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Ocelot FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are ocelots herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Ocelots are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.

To which kingdom do ocelots belong?

Leopard cats belong to the animal kingdom.

Which category do leopard cats belong to?

Leopard cats belong to the mammalian class.

What door do leopard cats belong to?

Leopard cats belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do leopard cats belong to?

Leopard cats belong to the cat family.

What order do leopard cats belong to?

Leopard cats belong to the order Carnivora.

What type of mulch do ocelots have?

Leopard cats are covered with fur.

What genus is a leopard cat?

Leopard cats belong to the genus Leopard cat.

Where do ocelots live?

Leopard cats live in South America.

What type of habitat do ocelots live in?

Leopard cats live in tropical jungles, grasslands and swamps.

Who are the natural enemies of leopard cats?

Predators of ocelots include jaguars, pumas, and horned eagles.

How many children does an ocelot have?

The average number of cubs for an ocelot is 2.

What are some interesting facts about ocelots?

Leopard cats are also known as painted leopards!

What is the scientific name of the leopard cat?

The scientific name of the ocelot is Leopardus pardalis.

What is the lifespan of an ocelot?

Ocelots can live 8 to 12 years.

How many kinds of leopard cats are there?

There is 1 species of ocelot.

What is the biggest threat to ocelots?

The biggest threat facing ocelots is habitat loss.

What is another name for an ocelot?

Leopard cats are also known as painted leopards.

How many ocelots are left in the world?

There are 800,000 ocelots left in the world.

How fast is an ocelot?

Ocelots can travel at speeds of up to 38 miles per hour.

What is the difference between serval and ocelot?

The main differences between ocelots and bobcats are their size, appearance, lifespan, habitat, diet and habits.

What's the difference between a clouded leopard and an ocelot?

The key differences between ocelots and clouded leopards are their size, evolutionary history, distribution, and habitat.

How to say ocelot in…

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  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. Ocelot facts, available here: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ocelot/
  9. Ocelot information, available here: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Leopardus_pardalis.html
  10. Ocelot Conservation, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/11509/0