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Ocelot

Leopardus pardalis

Photo: Close-up of ocelot

Photo: Close-up of ocelot (View larger version)

Photograph by Annie Griffiths Belt

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Twice the size of the average house cat, the ocelot is a sleek animal with a gorgeous dappled coat. These largely nocturnal cats use keen sight and hearing to hunt rabbits, rodents, iguanas, fish, and frogs. They also take to the trees and stalk monkeys or birds. Unlike many cats, they do not avoid water and can swim well.

Like other cats, ocelots are adapted for eating meat. They have pointed fangs used to deliver a killing bite, and sharp back teeth that can tear food like scissors. Ocelots do not have teeth appropriate for chewing, so they tear their food to pieces and swallow it whole. Their raspy tongues can clean a bone of every last tasty morsel.

Many ocelots live under the leafy canopies of South American rain forests, but they also inhabit brushlands and can be found as far north as Texas. These cats can adapt to human habitats and are sometimes found in the vicinity of villages or other settlements.

Ocelots' fine fur has made them the target of countless hunters, and in many areas they are quite rare, including Texas, where they are endangered. Ocelots are protected in the United States and most other countries where they live.

Female ocelots have litters of two or three darkly colored kittens. In northern locations females den in the autumn, while in tropical climes the breeding season may not be fixed.

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