Jaguarundi

Overview

The jaguarundi is the most common wild cat in South and Central America. It can be tamed and is widely distributed. In has been a difficult wild cat to scientifically classify. It looks more like a marten that a cat (see a nice camera trap photograph). It is the only South American wildcat to have 38 chromosomes rather than 36. It is related more closely to the Puma and cheetah that other South American wildcats. The jaguarundi has few markings and a ticked coat. It has two main color phases: gray and red-brown. This wild cat is distributed from Mexico to Argentina and due to its wide range it is seen in a variety of contrasting habitats from wetlands to semi-arid thorn forest. They hunt during the day and at night. Their primary prey is small in size (less than 1 kg) and it includes rodents and birds. Its plain pelt has protected it from being hunted for it skin and accordingly it is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List™.

Introduction

There is more to know about the Jaguarundi, despite being the most commonly seen wildcat in Central and South America. At the time of publication of the Wild Cats Of The World (2002) only three research projects have captured and radio tracked this wild cat. And of those only one tracked more than three cats. This page was written in June of 2009. The date is important for all articles on wildcats because their populations and ranges are declining and shrinking – i.e. changing, making older information out of date.

jaguarundi cat

Jaguarundi_best small
Jaguarundi cat A series of three photographs all of which are copyright Jim Sanderson Ph.D. They show the cat with Jim (top left) and in captivity. Thanks Jim. Jim Sanderson is probably the foremost expert on the small wildcats.

 

Description

To a person who might not be that involved in wildlife, this animal does not look much like a cat or at least the cat with which we are familiar, the domestic cat. Certainly, the photograph below bears this out. It somewhat has the appearance of a weasel or an otter (or perhaps a marten) at first glance, but the videos at the base of this page, despite being not of the best quality, show us a small wildcat albeit one with a rangy, gangly body, small had, small ears, long tail and a heavily ticked (agouti gene) coat. The heading photo below shows off the banding in the individual hairs.

The ears sit substantially on the side of the head and as mentioned are small. Perhaps a cat with ears that are almost an opposite are those of the Serval. In addition, unusually for a wildcat, there are no white or light spots (ocelli) at the back of the ears, which serve a communication function (to signal an aggressive mode).

jaguarundi cat

Jaguarundi – Concerned as I am to provide a credit for the above photograph I have lost the details, for which I apologise. Could the photographer come forward?

As I said the coat is ticked and there are two colour types (“phases” as the experts have called it ). The colours are (a) grayish (“gray morph” – “morph” means: one of the distinct forms of a species) and (b) brownish (see above). The gray colour varies from gray with white ticking (as opposed to the yellow ticking that can be seen in the photograph below) to brownish black and sometimes black, while the brown varies from tawny to bright chestnut. The chestnut colour is shown below and the darker brownish black above.

This is a small wildcat with weights ranging from 3.75 kg (in Belize the lower end of weight range and a female) to 7 kg in Suriname (a female). 7 kg is 15.4 pounds and 3.75 kg is 8.3 pounds. The average domestic cat weight covers a similar scale so this cat is the size of a largish domestic cat – see Largest Domestic Cat Breed.

jaguarundi-2

See three more pictures of this interesting wildcat.

The Name

The name is interesting to me. It would seem to be an amalgam of “jaguar” and “undi”. “Undi” means undies in Spanish! I don’t know where that takes us.

Update: The name jaguarundi is derived from Tupi-Guarani. They domesticated them, and the original form is jawarundi, which drifted to jaguarundi in american spanish. In Tupi is actually the word for cat (yaguara) which became jaguar, and shadow (undi)…My thanks to Bearcat M. Şandor.

Local names are:

  • Halari or Jaguaroundi (src: Mongabay website)
  • Eyra Cat (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List)

The scientific name is

  • Puma yagouaroundi.
  • Herpailurus yagouaroundi – Synonym (a synonym is another older and perhaps outdated scientific name for a species)
  • Herpailurus yaguarondi – Synonym (name invalid)

Classification of the Jaguarundi

Taxonomy is the practice of classifying and naming living organisms. And this cat has proved a bit problematic in this regard. It is not the same as the other South American wild cats. This cat is different to the other small South American cats at a genetic level in that it has 38 chromosomes and not 36. Molecular research indicates that his cat is more related to the cheetah and puma than to the other South American wild cats.

jaguarundi-belize

This image (above) comes from the Mongabay.com website as is reproduced with their permission – thanks guys. The photo is by Rhett A. Butler.

Range, Habitat and Ecology

As at 2002, the Jaguarundi range extended from Southern Texas going south to coastal Mexico and on through Costa Rica, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras and Panama, and then to the South American countries of Ecuador, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. It is unclear if it occupies Uruguay. And it is now thought to be extinct in Texas (as at June 2009, the date of this article). It seems that perhaps the last sighting in Texas was a Jaguarundi killed by traffic and which was on or near the road in 1986.

These countries can be shown on a map. The best map by far is produced by the Red List, which can be seen here. Wikipedia have produced the following map (published courtesy published under Wikimedia® creative commons license = Attribution-ShareAlike License)

jaguarundi range

Below is an interactive map of the range based very closely on the Red List map. The map can be moved around – hold left click over the map and move mouse:


View Jaguarundi Geographic Range in a larger map

Jaguarundi Range takes you to a larger version of the above and a guide as to how to make the map better.

They are found from sea level to 3,200 metres. Their habitat overlaps with (sympatric with) ocelot, margay and oncilla. The ocelot is a threat to his species survival – see below. They are, it seems, tolerant of habitat occupying a wide range of types from semi-arid to wet grassland. The map above indicates to me, though, that this cat prefers the latter and in fact the Jaguarundi likes dense cov er with some open areas and they like to hunt along the edges of open areas. As is the case for a number wild cats they like water courses (e.g. Asian Leopard Cat).

What does this habitat look like on the ground. One place which is their habitat in Belize is the Cockscomb Basin. Here are two photographs. The first (see right) was taken in Cockscomb Basin and is of a Jaguarundi that was slightly tame it seems. This is not uncommon apparently as they quickly become tame and friendly.

The second is a picture of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve in Belize:

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve Belize

The Jaguarundi preys, mainly, in the daytime – diurnal (4 am to about 6 pm) and on the ground. The opposite is “nocturnal” meaning night time. In common with all wildcats they are agile, athletic, good jumpers and good climbers.

The prey of this cat is:

  • small, most easily available and less than 1 kg in weight usually, which means:
  • rodents including rats (Belize),
  • birds
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • marmoset

In Belize research indicated the following percentages of prey found in “scats” (excrement, dung):

Prey Percentage
Small mammals 90
Arthropod (invertebrate animals that include the insects, crustaceans, arachnids, and myriapods having an exoskeleton) 72
Birds 21
Opossums 13
Fruit 11
Leaves 7

 

jaguarundi-5

Jaguarundi cat – photograph by by Jorge Montejo under creative commons license: Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Jaguarundi – Land Use – Social Organisation

This is not well known. In captivity they appear to be gregarious. They are solitary in the wild except when in pairs at the time the female is in oestrous (heat and receptive to mating). What little is known is that their ranges are as follows:

Area – country Range size – notes
Belize 88 and 100 km² (2 males) – an extremely large area. Travelled average of 6.6 km daily
Belize 20 km² (adult female). Travelled average of 6.6 km daily
Brazil subtropical forest 6.8 km²
Mexico 8.9 and 8.3 km² (males and females respectively)

 

As to vocalizations, the question for me is, “do they meow?” Well they:

  • chirp
  • make the wah-wah call
  • purr (like domestic cats)
  • whistle
  • scream
  • chatter (domestic cats chatter when they are practicing killing birds) and
  • yap….and they
  • hiss (see video below)

Other forms of communications are similar to domestic cats:

  • urination (spraying for domestic cats)
  • leave uncovered faeces
  • leave scent by head rubbing objects (domestic cat equivalent: head butting etc.)
  • leave claw marks

They don’t appear to meow, therefore!

Reproduction

Not enough is known about breeding seasons to make a useful comment. Estrus lasts about 3-5 days. The oestrus cycle last about 53 days. Mating seems to be similar to other cats including domestic cats. The male grasps the back of the neck in his teeth and the female screams when he removes himself (because of barbs on his penis – see cats mating). Gestation is 70-75 days and the usual litter is 1-4 offspring. The family live in dens in thick cover. The mother does not leave the offspring alone for long periods. By aged 6 weeks they can eat solid food. In zoos that live to more than 10 years of age.

jaguarundi ticked coat

Above: the heavy ticking is apparent: Photo by alumroot

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) Assessment – Threats – Conservation

Assessment is classified as Least Concern (LC):

IUCN Least Concern

Least concern means: Least Concern (LC or LR/lc), lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category (src: Wikipedia). If for one do not understand this category in relation to wild cats, any wild cats. Humans are in the same category!

The Red List just ifies this classification as follows (summarized):

  • there is not enough information to place the Jaguarundi in the next category up, Near Threatened. It is under review. Despite that argument they say:
  • this cat is much less abundant that thought
  • it is under threat of habitat conversion (a euphemism for human activity that destroys its habitat)
  • there is a threat from ocelots
  • they have a low density (cats per certain area) – usually at “0.01-0.05/km² or lower” (Red List). This seems very low.
  • only the large reserves can sustain viable populations
  • the population is falling. No overall population size is quoted.

I would suggest that the time to reclassify has distinctly arrived.

Threats:

  • traps catch them that are set for “commercially viable species” (note: all traps are wrong, period)
  • low level hunting
  • habitat loss – major threat
  • fragmentation of habit – major threat
  • farmers kill them as they kill poultry (probably because there is a scarcity of prey due to habitat loss).

Sources:

  • University of Michigan
  • Red List
  • Wild Cats Of The World (major) – a great book
  • Wikipedia
  • Free Dictionary
  • Dial Pipex agarman website

Photos: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.

From Jaguarundi to Wild Cat Species


Comments

Jaguarundi — 31 Comments

  1. We have seen this cat in highlands county florida. I previously worked for the fla.fish and game and was supprised as this cat walked out in the road and stood there for us to watch it. I went on the computer verify the nature of the cat. This happened about two months ago. my friend who lives close by has also seen the cat.I was informed by a biologist that there have been other sightings here in our county.

  2. southeast webb county, texas. I saw one walking between my house and barn. got within 10 feet and backed off after hearing the kittens cry as she got to the den.

    • Do you know if the jaguarundi is actually established in Texas as a real wild cat species or are these just escaped cats or vagrant, wandering cats from Mexico? I ask because the Red List does have Texas or anywhere near it as part of this cat’s distribution (range). What is going on? Do you know? Thanks for your comment by the way.

    • I think the definitive source for information about the distribution of wild cat species, The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM should update their range map because it does not include the USA. It stops at Mexico. There are quite a lot of comments about the presence of the jaguarundi in the US.

  3. I saw a large cat for the second time today. It was walking on the shore of the lake on which our house is located in Viera, Fl. It was definately not a bob cat, it had a longish tail, turned upward at the end,It was long enough to drag on the ground if not held up but not a heavy one. The cat was striped and was large. I saw a similar one years ago at the side of a road here in Florida. This one was just strolling along but I was just waking up, so startled that I never thought to get the camera. Next time I will not be so slow.(I hope)

  4. I used to see these all of the time walking on the edge of the roads in Panama. They must have been scavaging for road kill? I thought they were just misbred cats, or something was not right with them. They sort of swayed, and kept their head down when they walked. They did look taller than the average house cat, with what I thought was a bigger head,than the regular house cat. Something didn’t appear proportional like the regular house cat.

  5. I have a trail camera picture of Jagurundi. I also saw a pair of cats twice while deer hunting. I would be more than willing to share my picture. I sighted both cats in 2010 in Starr county Texas,

  6. I hunt near Deadwood, TX. Two of us spotted a grayest colored one Saturday. I am positive that it was. Another (red) one was spotted on the same lease two years ago.

  7. Thank you sir for a very interesting and informative site.
    I have one small correction though. It says about the size of range that animals in Belize (two males and one female) traveled on average 6,6 kg daily. Surely it should say 6,6 km as kg is a measure of weight (1000 grams). 6,6 km equals 4,1 miles. Does not seem like a lot, but then it is of course a small cat and if prey is plenty enough…

    • Thank you very much for picking up this typographic error. Much appreciated. I’ll amend it now. As for the range the information comes from a reliable source. Small wild cat species do travel extraordinary distances sometimes and the snow leopard (male) – a large wild cat – can have a range of 1000 kms! Amazing. Happy Christmas Palle D.

        • Thanks Barbara. There are quite a few sightings of this wild cat species in the US. They are not meant to be in the USA (according to the experts). Some people try and domestic them. The jaguarundi that are sighted – if the sightings are correct – are possibly escaped semi-domestic jaguarundi. That is my guess and I could well be wrong.

  8. I saw what I think was a jaguarundi 2 years ago in Menard Tx. It was seen a week ago in same area by someone else. I am so excited. Small, black and a long tail.

  9. I saw a jaguarundi yesterday,he came out of the bushes on the gravel road chasing a small iguana,grabbed her with its paw a mouth a runned back into the bush. It was like a reddish brown , very agile with a long tail.
    I am in the Colombian llanos , barranca de Upia,Meta.
    Its the second we see, another we photographed,it was greyish with rings on the tail.i’ll try to sen picture.

    • Hello. Thank you for telling us about your sighting of the jaguarundi. I think that you are the 1st person from Columbia to make a comment on this site. I’m very pleased that you did. This species of wild cat is actually quite popular and occasionally people in America see this cat although I’m not sure that they are correct because officially this cat does not exist in America. The American sightings are possibly escaped tame jaguarundis.

    • Roberto, is this typical for the jaguarundi to chase down and eat an iguana in Colombia llanos? Please upload your jpeg/photo; that would be very good to have on this site. TIA :)

  10. I have saw this cat 3 times within this past month in the country area outside of Greenville SC. It is on East Georgia Rd Simpsonville SC 29681 It looks to be a brindle like color with a small head. It is only at night when I see it crossing the road. It is staying within a couple mile radius. I have not told anyone and I do not feel anyone is hunting it. Two years previous to this I seen a rather large cougar on this road. My concern is that someone out here has a cat farm that is not able to properly house them.

    • This species of wild cat is not native to America and should not be in Greenville but that said there are quite a lot of reports of this wild cat being in America particularly in the south. It may be, as you suggests, that people are either breeding them or keeping them captive and then one or 2 escape and we have sightings out in the wild. Thank you for visiting and reporting on your sighting.

  11. I saw a black Jaguarundi near Moravia, Texas five years ago. I drove up behind it one morning and I got a good look before it jumped into some brush. I have heard stories of sightings by reputable people since I was a child.

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