Leopardussmall American cats


Leopardus is a genus within the family Felidae along with all other cats. Known as the genus of American spotted cats, or as the ocelot lineage, they are difficult to tell apart as all Leopardus species have similar spotting patterns. Leopardus has 18 pairs of chromosomes which sets it apart from other wild cats that have 19 pairs of chromosomes and supports that these species are related from a common ancestor. (Sanderson and Watson, 2011; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

There are 9 species within Leopardus. These include Geoffroy's cats (Leopardus geoffroyi), kodkods (Leopardus guigna), Andean mountain cats (Leopardus jacobitus), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), northern tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus), southern tigrina (Leopardus guttulus), margays (Leopardus wiedii), and colocolos or pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo or Leopardus pajeros or Leopardus braccatus). While there have been some arguments about how many species there are and if they should all be organized under Leopardus, most scientists agree that these 8 species are the most widely accepted organization of this genus. Additionally, many of these species and their subspecies were named after those who discovered them. For example, L. geoffroyi is named for the 18th century French naturalist Professor E. Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, L. jacobitus is named for the daughter of an Argentinian senator, and L. wiedii was named for the German explorer and naturalist Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian II of Wied-Neuwied. (Beolens and et al., 2009; Kitchner, et al., 2017; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Geographic Range

All species of Leopardus can be found in South America; however, Leopardus weidii, Leopardus pardalis, and Leopardus tigrinis can also be found in Central America, and the range of Leopardus paradalis extends into southern North America as well. The small cats of Leopardus live mostly in tropical, sub-tropical, and cloud forests, but they can also be found in more open, rocky terrain or, in the case of Leopardus jacobitus, in tree-less mountainous terrain. (Abrahams and et al., 2019; Cuyckens, et al., 2015; Sanderson and Watson, 2011; Trigo, et al., 2018)


Since Leopardus can be found in Central and South America, they are mostly known for occupying high altitudes in tropical, subtropical, and cloud forests; however, there are a few exceptions to this. Leopardus jacobitus prefers cold, rocky, treeless zones in the Andes mountains, Leopardus geoffroyi prefers scrub woodland areas with open brush, Leopardus pardalis, in addition to being found in tropical and subtropical forests, can be found in dry deciduous forests. Some species have often been found living on plantations or near agricultural centers to prey on livestock. Leopardus hunts by using stealth tactics to sneak up on small mammals, rodents, small reptiles, and birds, or, these cats will also scavenge if prey is sparse. Different species will be nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal depending on the activity of the animals, often other small cats, they are in competition with. For shelter, Leopardus will find rock structures, hollowed tree trunks, or other animals' burrows instead of creating shelter. (Beolens and et al., 2009)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

Leopardus is a member of the Felidae family, in the subfamily Felinae, along with other well known genera such as Puma, Lynx, and Panthera. The closest ancestors to Leopardus are the caracal cats of Caracal from Africa, and it is believed that Leopardus was a product of land bridges between the old world and new world many years ago. This genus has also been known by many names in the years since it was named by John Edward Grey in 1842 when the type species Leopardus griseus, now known as Leopardus pardalis, was named. These synonyms include Colocolo, Dendrailurus, Lynchailurus, Margay, Montifelis, Mungofelis, Noctifelis, Leopardus, Oncilla, Onciodes, Leopardus, Pajeros, Pardalina, Pardalis, and Pseudolynx. While these synonyms are not currently used - many of them stemming from belief that species within Leopardus should be within their own genera - all of them led to the eventual agreement on the use of Leopardus as the true genera for this group of felines. (Kitchner, et al., 2017; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

  • Synonyms
    • Colocolo
    • Dendrailurus
    • Lynchailurus
    • Margay
    • Montifelis
    • Mungofelis
    • Noctifelis
    • Leopardus
    • Oncilla
    • Oncoides
    • Leopardus
    • Pajeros
    • Pardalina
    • Pardalis
    • Pseudolynx
  • Synapomorphies
    • Spotted Coat
    • 18 Pairs of Chromosomes

Physical Description

The species of Leopardus are considered small cats; these species average in weight from 1.4-14 kilograms, and average in length from 59-141 centimeters from tip of the nose to tip of the tail. Species such as L. guigina, L. pajeros, and L. geoffroyi are sized on the smaller end of the range while species such as L. pardalis are on the larger end of the spectrum. (Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

As the spotted small cats of the new world, Leopardus is known for its spotted and striped fur patterning and variety of tan or brown coloration. Species that live in the mountains or open areas, such as L. jacobitus , have a more grey based coloration while the other species found in forested areas will have tan or brown coloration depending on the foliage of the specific forest which they need to camouflage into. These species are known for being difficult to distinguish from each other by the untrained eye since their patterns are so similar; however, scientists who study these spotting patterns are able to easily distinguish each species. Both males and females have similar coloration and spotting or striping patterns. (Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


Leopardus is solitary except for during mating season. The males are attracted to the females through the females' behaviors during heat, or their breading condition, which include vocalizations, scent marking, and other behaviors. During the time of heat, one female can be impregnated by multiple males for the same litter, but males will usually patrol their territories to protect the females in the area from mating with other males. A male will often mate with a female within its territory multiple times to ensure increased survival of the offspring and to decrease the amount of time the female will be exposed to the opportunity to mate with another male, but, since males often have more than one female within the territory, those not being mated with will often find males from other territories to mate with during the hormonal rush of heat. Since males mate with multiple females, the females are in charge of raising the young. Young Leopardus cats will nurse and be under the care of their mothers for an estimated two to six months until they reach sexual maturity and can survive on their own. (Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

Leopardus follows similar breeding patterns to other small cats in the new world. Mating season is recorded as occurring from October through January; however, the species which live in the tropics are thought to mate year round due to the warm temperatures.Males and females live solitary lives until they meet for copulation. Males, attracted to the pheromones released by females during heat, will mount the female and are thought to use the spines on their penises to scratch the inside of the female's reproductive tract to cause insemination. Throughout mating, males become extremely territorial over the females within their territory due to the ability for females to carry litters with multiple fathers. After this process, the gestation period lasts for approximately 75 days. Litter size ranges from 1-4 kittens. Once born, sexual maturity is then reached at around 24 months, but some studies have shown that sexual maturity may take longer to develop depending on factors such as nutrition or density of females in the area. Mated females experience estrus every 4-6 months in the wild while unmated females experience estrus every 6 weeks. (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

After copulation, male Leopardus cats are not involved in care for the young. Often females will hide young from males to keep them from killing newborn males due to territoriality. Females will nurse the young for around 8 weeks. Once the young reach around 8 weeks old, they will begin to wean and eat solid foods even though they will begin accompanying the mother on hunting trips as early as 4-6 weeks. Young will become independent from the mother at 1 year old, but females have been recorded to not have another litter for another year after the independence of their young is achieved. (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Leopardus is known to live up to 18 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. Mortality is often caused by infectious diseases, such as pneumonia, or parasites. (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997)


Leopardus is mainly solitary as it only exhibits social behavior between males and females during mating season. Leopardus will move about its territory, ranging from around 6 square miles to 25 square miles depending on the species and location, but these cats do not venture much outside of their territories as they are very territorial. Species which live in forested areas have adapted to climbing trees to hunt prey and sometimes sleep, but most Leopardus species will sleep in stolen or natural-made burrows along the ground. Leopardus is mainly nocturnal and has evolved to be so in order to avoid conflict with other small cat species, such as Puma yagouaroundi, that live in the same area. Some Leopardus species, specifically L. pardalus, have been known to be active in the daytime hours on overcast days; however, they are usually inactive when the sun is out. g. Leopardus, as a member of the cat family, also moves in a quadrupedal manner. (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

Communication and Perception

While Leopardus may vocalize with growls, hissing, or other vocalizations that people often attribute to small cats, it mainly uses scent markings, through spraying and/or rubbing of cheeks and chin, to mark territorial boundaries and dens. Females also give off pheromones during mating that males can detect and have some mating-specific vocalizations and body language. Males will fight for territories and females if necessary, but usually will interact by avoiding other cats when possible. Since these cats are territorial and solitary, there is not a notable social ranking; however, males are known to kill male kittens if they are around for the birth as any other male, adult or young, is thought to be a threat. (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

Food Habits

Leopardus is carnivorous. In general, the species of Leopardus hunt small rodents such as rats, mice, wild guinea pigs, and agouti, small reptiles such as lizards and snakes, birds, and other nocturnal small mammals. Some species, however, specialize in hunting other animals as well. L. pardalis will additionally hunt fish and land crabs, and L. wiedii will occasionally hunt insects. There is not much research completed about the diets of L. guigna and L. tigrinus, but scientists conclude that they most likely hunt small mammals and birds as the other species in Leopardus do.

Since these cats are generally smaller in stature, they will often be unable to finish a prey item in one sitting. As a result they will hide it by covering it with ground cover and return to finish the prey for the next meal. When consuming prey, they will begin eating at the head for smaller animals and at the stomach for larger ones. (Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates


Known predators of Leopardus are pumas (Puma concolor) and jaguars (Panthera onca). Leopardus uses its coat as camouflage to hide from these predators as coat color and spotting varies between species depending on location, and they will escape from threats by climbing trees or hiding in dens. Leopardus has also adapted to being nocturnal in order to avoid conflict with other apex predators since the larger ones, pumas and jaguars, will prey on them. However, Leopardus is affected the most by human caused threats. Mining, construction, timber production, predator control for livestock, and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are usually more dangerous to these cats than natural predators since they are in a high trophic level. (de Oliveira, 1998; Massara, et al., 2018; Murray and Gardner, 1997; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Leopardus is an apex predator. Even though these cats are small in size, they are found at a high trophic level since there are not many animals within their ecosystems which will hunt them.

Leopardus is a host to many organisms. Those that have been found during necropsies of wild specimens and checks of captive specimens include: nematodes (Toxascaris, Lagochilascaris, Toxocara cati, Toxocara canis, Toxocara leonina, Syngamus, Ancylostoma canium, Ancylostoma brazilienese, Ancylostoma tubeaform, Uncinaria stenocephala, Dirofilaria immitis, Physaloptera praeputialis, and Molineus), parasites (Paragonimus mexicanus, Diphyllobothrium urichi, Taenia taeniaeformis, Dipylidium canium, Dibotriocephalus mansonoides, Oncicola chibigouzouensis, and Oncicola venezuelensis), ringworm (Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton mentagorphytes), chiggers (Eutrombicula goeldii, Odontacarus fieldi, Trombicula dunni), fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), mange (Otodectes cynotis, Notoedres cati, Demodex folliculorum, and Sarcoptes scabiei), lice (Felicola felis), and protists (Toxoplasma gondii, Hammondia, Isospora bigamina, Isospora rivolta, and Isopora felis). (de Oliveira, 1998; Murray and Gardner, 1997)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Leopardus pelts are heavily valued in fur trading, and, until recently, were taken in alarming numbers near 80,000 per year. Additionally, young Leopardus kittens were taken from dens to be entered into the pet trade; mothers would be killed for pelts while their young would be kept and often die in transit before they could be sold. (Massara, et al., 2018)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Leopardus is mainly known as a pest for farmers. As other small cat species, they are known to hunt free range chickens or other small livestock. This causes food shortage and can affect the income of the families which run the farms Leopardus hunts on. In general, however, they avoid direct contact with humans. (García-Olaechea and Hurtado, 2018; Massara, et al., 2018; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

The largest threats to the population loss of Leopardus are all anthropogenic, or human caused. These include habitat loss, illegal hunting for the fur trade, hunting for predator control, urbanization (death by vehicles), and illegal pet trade. As a result, Leopardus is legally protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and, in the case of L. jacobita, under the Endangered Species Act. Even though illegal hunting and capturing practices still continue in some areas, the legal protection of these species has decreased the mortality rate of Leopardus due to these circumstances. Habitat loss is now the number one threat and will continue to be as its primary territory, the Amazon, continues to be destroyed.

All species of Leopardus are experiencing a decrease in population except for L. geoffroyi which has a stable population. L. geoffroyi and L. pardalis are of least concern, L. guigna and L. tigrinus are vulnerable , L. weidii and L. colocolo are near threatened, and L. jacobita is endangered. (Boitani and Powell, 2012; de Oliveira, 1998; IUCN, 2020; Koprowski and Krausman, 2019; Massara, et al., 2018; Sanderson and Watson, 2011)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Emily Morton (author), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Abrahams, M., et al.. 2019. Habitat use of the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) in Brazilian Amazon. Ecology and Evolution, 9: 5049–5062. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://doi. org/10.1002/ece3.5005.

Beolens, B., et al.. 2009. The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. ProQuest Ebook Central: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csu/detail.action?docID=3318534..

Boitani, L., R. Powell. 2012. Carnivore Ecology and Conservation : A Handbook of Techniques. ProQuest Ebook Central: Oxxford University Press. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csu/detail.action?docID=845891.

Cuyckens, G., J. Periera, T. Trigo, M. Da Silva, L. Goncalves, J. Huaranca, N. Bou Perez, J. Cartes, E. Eizirik. 2015. Refined assessment of the geographic distribution of Geoffroy's cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) (Mammalia: Felidae) in the Neotropics. Journal of Zoology, 298: 285-292. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://doi-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/10.1111/jzo.12312.

García-Olaechea, A., C. Hurtado. 2018. Assessment of the current distribution and human perceptions of the Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. Oryx, 52: 587-590. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://www-cambridge-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/core/journals/oryx/article/assessment-of-the-current-distribution-and-human-perceptions-of-the-pampas-cat-leopardus-colocolo-in-northern-peru-and-southern-ecuador/FB761068099ECFD41854A8CD87DD93D9.

IUCN, 2020. "IUCN Red List" (On-line). Accessed March 08, 2020 at https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?taxonomies=120151&searchType=species.

Kitchner, A., C. Breitenmoser-Würsten, E. Eizirik, A. Gentry, L. Werdelin, A. Wilting, N. Yamaguchi, A. Abramov, P. Christiansen, C. Driscoll, J. Duckworth, W. Johnson, S. Luo, E. Meijaard, P. O’Donoghue, J. Sanderson, K. Seymour, M. Bruford, C. Groves, M. Hoffmann, K. Nowell, Z. Timmons, S. Tobe. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN/ SSC Cat Specialist Group.. CATnews, 11: 3-79. Accessed 05/4/220 at https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/32616/A_revised_Felidae_Taxonomy_CatNews.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Koprowski, J., P. Krausman. 2019. International Wildlife Management : Conservation Challenges in a Changing World. ProQuest Ebook Central: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csu/detail.action?docID=5844690..

Massara, R., A. de Oliviera Paschoal, L. Bailey, P. Doherty Jr., A. Hirsch, A. Chiarello. 2018. Factors influencing ocelot occupancy in Brazilian Atlantic Forest reserves. biotropica, 50: 125-134. Accessed March 01, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.1111/btp.12481.

Murray, J., G. Gardner. 1997. Leopardus pardalis. Mammalian Species, 548: 1-10. Accessed February 22, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.2307/3504082.

Sanderson, J., P. Watson. 2011. Small Wild Cats: The Animal Answer Guide. ProQuest Ebook Central: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csu/detail.action?docID=3318763..

Trigo, T., F. Tirelli, L. Goncalves da Silva, E. Eizirik, D. Quierolo, F. Mazim, F. Peters, M. Favarini, T. de Freitas. 2018. Geographic distribution modeling of the margay (Leopardus wiedii) and jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi): a comparative assessment. Journal of Mammology, 99: 252-262. Accessed February 01, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyx152.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed). Bucknell University: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed February 09, 2020 at https://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/.

de Oliveira, T. 1998. Leopardus wiedii. Mammalian Species, 579: 1-6. Accessed February 22, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.2307/3504400.