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The Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus), also known as the Little Spotted Cat, Tigrillo, Cunaguaro or Tiger Cat, is a small spotted felid found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. It is a close relative of the Ocelot and the Margay.

The Oncilla grows to be about 40-50 cm (18" to 2') long, plus a 30-40 cm (10-20") long tail. While this is somewhat larger than the average Domestic Cat, Leopardus tigrinus is slightly lighter, weighing 2-3 kg (5-10 lbs.), less than a standard domestic cat. Its coat is a rich ochre, spotted with black rosettes. This coloration helps the oncilla blend in with the mottled sunlight of the tropical forest understory. The Oncilla is a nocturnal animal, which hunts for rodents and birds.

A zone of hybridization between the oncilla and the Colocolo has been found through genetic analyses of specimens from central Brazil.


The following are the currently recognized subspecies:

Leopardus tigrinus tigrinus, eastern Venezuela, Guyana, northeastern Brazil

Leopardus tigrinus guttulus, central and southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, northern Argentina

Leopardus tigrinus oncilla, Central America

Leopardus tigrinus pardinoides, western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador

Although the Central American Oncilla is listed as a separate subspecies, based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, Johnson et al. (1999) found strongly supported differences between L.t. oncilla in Costa Rica and L.t. guttulus in southern Brazil, comparable to differences between different neotropical species. Researchers have argued that there should be a splitting of the Oncilla into two species, as there is pronounced difference in appearance between the Oncillas in Costa Rica as compared to those in central and southern Brazil. Further samples of L.t. oncilla are needed from northern South America to determine whether this taxon ranges outside Central America, and whether it should be considered a distinct species rather than a subspecies.

Behavior and appearance

The Oncilla is similar in appearance to the Margay and the Ocelot. The underside is pale with dark spots, the tail is ringed, the backs of the ears are black with bold ocelli, and the fur is thick and soft, ranging from light brown to dark ochre. Its spots are dark brown or black rosettes, open in the center, and are irregularly shaped. The legs have medium-sized spots tapering to smaller spots near the paws. The Oncilla's jaw is shortened, resulting in fewer teeth, but it does have well-developed carnassials and canines.

The Oncilla is a primarily terrestrial animal, but is also an adept climber. Like all cats, the Oncilla is an obligate carnivore, requiring meat for survival. This cat eats small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards, and the occasional tree frog. Occasionally, the cat will eat grasses.

The Oncilla stalks its prey from a distance, and once in range, it pounces to catch and kill the prey.

Distribution and habitat

This species shows a strong preference for montane forest, and are usually found in elevations higher than those of the margay or ocelot. They have been found in habitats as high as 4500m in Colombia, in the Andean highlands in Ecuador, and in the subtropical forest highlands in Brazil. They are typically distributed from Costa Rica through Northern Argentina. They have been recorded in northern Panama, but the remainder of the country appears to be a gap in the species' range.


Oncillas produce 1 to 3 kittens (usually only one), after a gestation of 74 to 76 days. The estrus is from 3 to 9 days, with older cats having shorter cycles. Oncillas have a life span of about 11 years in the wild, but there are records of these cats being as old as 17 years.


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the oncilla as vulnerable. The chief threats to these felines are deforestation and poaching. Oncillas are killed for their pelts, which are highly prized and often sold or made into clothing. Reports in 1972 and 1982 in South America showed that the Oncilla is one of the four most heavily hunted of all the small cats.

Another factor contributing to Oncilla mortality is human expansion, settling what was once open terrain for wild cats. Coffee plantations are most often established in cloud forest habitats, causing the reduction of preferred habitats. There are a few oncillas in captivity in North America, and a few in zoos in Europe and South America. In captivity, the Oncilla tends to have high infant mortality rate. CITES places the Oncilla on Appendix I, prohibiting all international commerce in Oncillas or products made from them.

Cat specialist groups are involved in studies and conservation of cats in all continents. In situ management programs are increasingly being emphasized. There is a breeding facility in Brazil for several small native felines, where their natural conditions and native food encourage reproduction similar to that in the wild. Unfortunately, Oncilla habitats that still allow hunting are Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Peru.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Oncilla

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