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Leopardus tigrinus - Little Spotted Cat

Physical Description:

Leopardus tigrinus is one of the smallest cat species in the Americas, averaging 2.5 kg.  This species is identified or known through a variety of different names.  Some of the names it is commonly referred as are; little spotted cat, oncilla, tigrina, and tiger cat.  In the field spotted cats are hard to distinguish form one another.  In comparison to the other spotted cats, its tail is relatively shorter and its eyes and ears are relatively larger (IUCN, 1996; Mondolfi et al., 1986).  They have a light brown coat with very dark brown or black spots and blotches.   Melanistic, or all black cats are not uncommon with this species.  The fur is firm, lies close to the skin and does not turn forward in the nape region as it does in some cats.  Measurements vary: head-body length: 452-648mm; tail: 255-330mm; weight: 1.5-3kg; males are slightly larger than females (Emmons, 1990). (IUCN (World Conservation Union) and cat specialist group, 1996; Mondolfi, 1986)


Leopardus tigrinus is rare in most areas, so it distribution is not well documented.  It is said to range in the South American countries of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Uraguay.  Little spotted cats are found in subtropical forests and prefer humid evergreen and montane cloud forests 40 to 3,000m above sea level (Mondolfi, 1986; Redford, 1992).  But because of deforestation they have been reported in semi-arid environments.

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

Because not much has been observed of little spotted cats in the wild, the only information that is documented is from captive pairs.  Females undergo estrous for several days with a gestation period ranging between 74-78 days (Foate 2003). A litter consists of 1-2 kittens and kittens open their eyes at about two weeks of age (Mondolfi, 1986).   The kittens are born between February and August.  The little spotted cat becomes sexually active after two years of age.

Ecology and Behavior:

Leopardus tigrinus is rare and not commonly observed.  But they are good climbers and thought to be nocturnal.  Their food habits and preferences have not been studied, but are thought to consist of rodents, small primates, birds, insects, and reptiles.  The little spotted cat is believed to be very solitary except for mating.


Leopardus tigrinus was once classified as a member of the genus Felis. It was a member of the subgenus Leopardus (Foate 2003).  At one time the little spotted cat was heavily hunted and trapped for the fur trade.  They are now listed as endangered on U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Literature Cited:

Cat Specialist Group 2001. Leopardus tigrinus. In: IUCN 2003. 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Gardner, A. 1971. Notes on the little spotted cat, Felis tigrina oncilla (Thomas) in Costa Rica. Journal of Mammalogy, 52: 464-465.


Foate, K. 2003. “Leopardus tigrinus” (On-Line), Animal Diversity Web.


Mondolfi, E. 1986. Notes on the biology and status of the small wild cats in Venezuela. Pp. 125-146 in S. Miller, D. Everett, eds. Cats of the World: biology, conservation, and management. Washington D.C.: National Wildlife Federation.


Redford, K., J. Eisenberg. 1992. Mammals of the Neotropics, Vol. 2: the southern cone. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press.


Reference written by Cody Koenig, Biology 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.  Edited by Christopher Yahnke. Page last updated August 8, 2005.

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