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Temporal range: Pleistocene-Recent[1]
~2.5–0 Ma
Leopardus collage.png
Leopardus species from top-left, clockwise: ocelot (L. pardalis), oncilla (L. tigrinus), Pampas cat (L. colocola), kodkod (L. guigna), margay (L. wiedii), Geoffroy's cat (L. geoffroyi)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Leopardus
Gray, 1842
Type species
Leopardus griseus
Gray, 1842
Leopardus range map
Leopardus distribution

Leopardus is a genus comprising eight species of small cats native to the Americas.[3] This genus is considered the oldest branch of a genetic lineage of small cats in the Americas whose common ancestor crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia to North America in the late Miocene.[4]


Leopardus species have spotted fur, with ground colors ranging from pale buff, ochre, fulvous and tawny to light gray.[5] Their small ears are rounded and white-spotted; their rhinarium is prominent and naked above, and their nostrils are widely separated.[6] They have 36 chromosomes, whereas other felids have 38.[7]


The generic name Leopardus was proposed by John Edward Gray in 1842, when he described two spotted cat skins from Central America and two from India in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London.[8] Several genera were proposed in the 19th and early 20th centuries for small spotted cats in the Americas, including:

Analysis of skull morphology of these taxa revealed close similarities in their base of skulls and nasal bones, their masticatory muscles, and dentition.[14] Phylogenetic analysis of tissue samples of these taxa and their ability to hybridise support the notion that they are members of the same genus.[4][7] The following living Leopardus species are recognized as valid taxa since 2017:[3]

Name IUCN Red List status and distribution
Ocelot L. pardalis (Linnaeus, 1758)[15]
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)-8.jpg
Ocelot distribution.jpg
Oncilla L. tigrinus (Schreber, 1775)[17]
Leopardus tigrinus - Parc des Félins.jpg
Oncilla distribution.jpg
Pampas cat L. colocola (Molina, 1782)[19]
Leopardus pajeros 20101006.jpg
PampasCat distribution.jpg

Range includes multiple species

Kodkod L. guigna (Molina, 1782)[19]
Leopardus guigna.jpeg
Guigna distribution.jpg
Margay L. wiedii (Schinz, 1821)[22]
Margay distribution.jpg
Geoffroy's cat L. geoffroyi (d'Orbigny & Gervais, 1844)[24]
GeoffroysCat distribution.jpg
Andean mountain cat L. jacobita (Cornalia, 1865)[26]
Andean cat 1 Jim Sanderson.jpg
AndeanCat distribution.jpg
Southern tigrina L. guttulus (Hensel, 1872)[28]
Leopardus tigrinus (Felis tigrina) - Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria - Genoa, Italy - DSC02677.JPG
SouthernTigerCat distribution.jpg

Analysis of 142 Pampas cat museum specimen collected across South America showed significant morphological differences between them. Therefore, it was proposed to split the Pampas cat and oncilla species complexes, and recognize the following as distinct species: the Pantanal cat (L. braccatus), eastern oncilla (L. emiliae), northern colocolo (L. garleppi), Muñoa's colocolo (L. munoai) and southern colocolo (L. pajeros). This classification has yet to be accepted by other taxonomists.[30]


Phylogenetic analysis of the nuclear DNA in tissue samples from all Felidae species revealed that the evolutionary radiation of the Felidae began in Asia in the Miocene around 14.45 to 8.38 million years ago.[4] Analysis of mitochondrial DNA of all Felidae species indicates a radiation at around 16.76 to 6.46 million years ago.[31]

The last common ancestor of Leopardus, Puma and Lynx is estimated to have lived 10.95 to 6.3 million years ago, based on analysis of nuclear DNA of cat species.[4] Analysis of their mitochondrial DNA indicates that their last common ancestor lived 14.04 to 6.83 million years ago.[31] Leopardus forms an evolutionary lineage that genetically diverged between 4.25 to 2.02 million years ago[4] and 5.19 to 0.98 million years ago.[31] It crossed the Isthmus of Panama probably during the Great American Biotic Interchange in the late Pliocene.[4] Leopardus vorohuensis is an extinct species of the genus, of which fossils were found in the Argentinian Vorohué Formation dated to the early Pleistocene; its supraorbital foramen and shape of teeth resemble those of the pampas cat.[1]

Within the genus, three distinct clades were identified: one comprising the ocelot and the margay, a second the Andean mountain cat and Pampas cat, and the third the kodkod, oncilla and Geoffroy's cat.[32][33] The following cladogram shows estimated divergence times in million years ago (mya).


  1. ^ a b Berta, A. (1983). "A new species of small cat (Felidae) from the late Pliocene – early Pleistocene (Uquian) of Argentina". Journal of Mammalogy. 64 (4): 720–725. doi:10.2307/1380541. JSTOR 1380541.
  2. ^ Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Genus Leopardus". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 537–540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
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  5. ^ Allen J. A. (1919). "Notes on the synonymy and nomenclature of the smaller spotted cats of tropical America". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 41: 341–419.
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  12. ^ Cabrera, Á. (1940). "Notas sobre Carnívoros sudamericanos" (PDF). Notas del Museo de la Plata. V (29): 1–22.
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  14. ^ Salles, L. O. (1992). Felid phylogenetics: extant taxa and skull morphology (Felidae, Aeluroidea) (PDF). American Museum Novitates. 3047. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
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  17. ^ Schreber, J. C. D. (1778). "Die Maragua". Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur, mit Beschreibungen. Erlangen: Wolfgang Walther. pp. 396–397.
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  19. ^ a b Molina, G. I. (1782). "La Guigna Felis guigna". Saggio sulla storia naturale del Chilli. Bologna: Stamperia di S. Tommaso d’Aquino. p. 295.
  20. ^ Lucherini, M.; Eizirik, E.; de Oliveira, T.; Pereira, J.; Williams, R.S.R. (2016). "Leopardus colocolo". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T15309A97204446.
  21. ^ Napolitano, C.; Gálvez, N.; Bennett, M.; Acosta-Jamett, G. & Sanderson, J. (2015). "Leopardus guigna". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T15311A50657245. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  22. ^ Schinz, H. R. (1821). "Wiedische Katze Felis wiedii". Das Thierreich eingetheilt nach dem Bau der Thiere: als Grundlage ihrer Naturgeschichte und der vergleichenden Anatomie von dem Herrn Ritter von Cuvier. Säugethiere und Vögel, Volume 1. Stuttgart, Tübingen: Cotta. pp. 235–236.
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  24. ^ D'Orbigny, A. & Gervais, P. (1844). "Mammalogie: Nouvelle espèce de Felis". Extraits des Procès-verbaux des Séances. 9: 40–41.
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  28. ^ Hensel, R. (1872). "Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Säugethiere Süd-Brasiliens". Physikalische Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1873): 1–130.
  29. ^ de Oliveira, T.; Trigo, T.; Tortato, M.; Paviolo, A.; Bianchi, R. & Leite-Pitman, M. R. P. (2016). "Leopardus guttulus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T54010476A54010576.
  30. ^ Nascimento, F.O.D.; Cheng, J. & Feijó, A. (2021). "Taxonomic revision of the pampas cat Leopardus colocola complex (Carnivora: Felidae): an integrative approach". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 191 (2): 575–611. doi:10.1093/zoolinnean/zlaa043.
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  33. ^ Johnson, W. E.; Culver, M.; Iriarte, J. A.; Eizirik, E.; Seymour, K. L. & O'Brien, S. J. (1998). "Tracking the evolution of the elusive Andean mountain cat (Oreailurus jacobitus) from mitochondrial DNA" (PDF). Journal of Heredity. 89 (3): 227–232. doi:10.1093/jhered/89.3.227. PMID 9656464.

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