Specimen of the Week: Week 130
By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 April 2014
I didn’t chose this week’s specimen, a friend did. But it is still a good one. Because all of our specimens are good. Not necessarily in terms of aestheticism, or durability, or say, smell… but all 68,000 are good. In one way or another. Unfortunately for both of us, I can only write about one at a time, but here it is. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
1) The ocelot is a small (compared to lions and tigers) spotted cat from the Americas. They are widespread, having made a home for themselves throughout Central and South America, and as far south as northern Argentina. They also occur in the very south of the United States. This specimen belongs to a female and was found in Surinam. Unfortunately for the individual in question, the skull was found in the intestines of a boa constrictor.
2) There are currently ten subspecies of ocelot scientifically described. The ocelot looks very similar to the closely related margay, but can be differentiated by the much shorter tail. Although primarily spotted, the ocelot’s fur also has a number of black stripes on the head and neck. The fur of the neck stripes slants forward, or grows ‘in reverse’. Female ocelots tend to be around a third smaller than the males.
3) The ocelot is primarily nocturnal and thus, as with most cats, hunts in the dark. It can prey upon quite large species such as agoutis, armadillos, deer, monkeys, and peccaries, though normally will go for small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and land crabs. The ocelot is both an excellent swimmer and climber, and during the day is often found asleep draped over a branch.
4) A male’s territory will overlap those of a number of females and ocelots will often utilise the same resting places as each other (though not at the same time). Females are thought to only give birth every two years, with typically a single cub being born at one time. Up to four cubs in a single litter have been recorded but this is very unusual. The female suckles the cub for up to nine months, and keeps it hidden away in dens such as a hollow tree or a cave. She will move it between dens until it is able to keep up with her and travel with her. The father is typically (for a cat) useless and has no interest in being a parent.
5) The ocelot is quite an adaptable animal, and thus inhabits a wide range of environment types. It has been found as high up as 3,800m, though it is more normal for the ocelot to be below 1,200m. They live in tropical forest, mangrove forest, coastal marshes, thorn scrub and savanna grassland.
Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology