Ocelots rest in trees during the day and are nocturnal, hunting most of the night. Rather than stalking prey, they often ambush it with a pounce, and are equipped with many useful hunting tools, including excellent vision, hearing, and camouflaged coloration. The skin on their necks is thickened for protection. Their large, forward-facing eyes provide great binocular vision and depth perception. The front canine teeth are used to pierce prey; the sharp protractile claws grab and hold prey; and the carnassial teeth shear meat like scissors. Ocelots may stash prey remains to eat later. They mark their large territories by clawing logs, spraying urine, or defecating.
Ocelots may be mature at 16 to 18 months and, like most cats, are solitary. Adult females are pregnant for a little over two and a half months. One to two kittens are born in a den (e.g., hollow tree or cave). Kittens are gray and fully spotted with mostly black limbs. Their blue eyes turn brown at three months. They begin to follow mom on hunts at one to two months, but remain dependent on her for several more. By two years, the young disperse. Ocelots live up to 10 years in the wild, but longer in captivity. In fact, one captive ocelot is reported to have lived over 20 years.
Ocelots are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife considers them Endangered. Ocelots at the L.A. Zoo are part of a Species Survival Plan. Wild populations are decreasing due to habitat loss, deaths related to predator control of other species, and the fur and pet trades. Boas, anacondas, harpy eagles, pumas, and jaguars are their natural predators.
Ocelots dwell in tropical or dry deciduous forest, dry scrub, and seasonally flooded savanna, from the chaparral in south Texas to thorn and riverine forests in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Ocelots eat smaller vertebrates, especially nocturnal prey such as rodents. Birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and land crabs also form part of their diet.
Ocelots’ coats have solid and open dark spots in lines or chain-like patterns along the body. Their background color is shades of gray, cinnamon, or buff. The under-parts are white spotted with black, and the tail has black rings or bars on its upper surface. White spots on the backs of adults’ ears may signal “follow me” to kittens. Adult males weigh 20-29 pounds, their body lengths are 34-39 inches, and their tails are 12-16 inches long. Adult females look similar, but are smaller, weighing 15-22 pounds, and measuring 26-32 inches long with a 10-15-inch tail.