Herpailurus yaguarondi

Photo - John.H. Hoffman

Body Length(mm) -550-770

Weight (kg) - 4-8

Litter Size - 2 average

Life Span - 15 years

Status - Least Concern

H.y.armeghinoi - Western Argentina

H.y.carcomitli - Sothern Texas, Mexico

H.y.eyra - Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina

H.y.fossata - Mexico, Honduras

H.y.melantho - Peru, Brazil

H.y.panamensis - Nicaraguar to Ecuador

H.y.tolteca - Arizon, Mexico

H.y.yagouaroundi - Guiana, Amazon

The jaguarundi is native to Central America and the northern and central countries of South America down to Argentina - it is also rarely sighted in parts of Texas and New Mexico in the southern United States. A number of jaguarundi are also to be found in Florida, although these are descendants of a small population introduced to the area in the 1940’s.

In appearance the jaguarundi is unlike any other cat and has been likened to a large weasel or otter, hence its english common name of ‘Otter Cat’. It is uniform in colour, ranging from dark grey/brown to an almost chestnut brown. In common with other species of wild cat, the darker forms are usually associated with dense forest cover and the paler forms with more arid habitats.

The body of the jaguarundi is long and low supported by short legs, measuring up to some 30 inches with an additional tail of about 20 inches. The head is small in proportion to its body size and sports short weasel like ears and narrow brown eyes. The jaguarundi is spotted at birth but these are lost at around three-four months old. Genetically, of all the wild cat species to be found in South America, the jaguarundi can perhaps be more closely associated with the larger felids. It has a chromosome count of 38, as do both the puma and jaguar, where as the remaining small felids in South America have only 36. There is some evidence to suggest that the jaguarundi is perhaps a descendant of the ancestral puma which is believed to have emigrated from Asia via the Bering Land bridge.

The jaguarundi is most commonly found in lowland habitats with good cover, such as forest margins and scrubland but is also found less commonly in dense tropical vegetation. The jaguarundi is often to be found close to running water and is an expert catcher of fish, which are caught with its probing front paws. Reports on the other prey species associated with the cat tend to vary on a regional basis but in general they include birds, which form a large part of its diet, small mammals, rodents, and reptiles.

The jaguarundi is diurnal in its hunting activities, although in parts of its range there seems to be evidence to support more crepuscular activity. Although the cat can climb well and often rests in the branches of trees, it is mostly terrestrial in its hunting. Although a solitary hunter, the jaguarundi is often more social in the rearing of young. The litter size is usually between 1-4 kittens and they are born after a gestation period of approximately 70 days. They reach maturity at about 22-24 months of age.

Although the fur of the jaguarundi is not highly sought after by fur traders the cat is at risk through general deforestation and loss of its natural habitat. In the United States, where sightings of the cat are very rare, it is classified as an endangered species. Four sub-species of jaguarundi are listed in CITES Appendix 1 with the remaining sub-species in Appendix 2. The IUCN Red Book classifies the jaguarundi as ‘Least Concern’.

1997 Andrew Garman