18 facts on how ocelots hunt

Peruvian ocelot caught by camera trap
Peruvian ocelot caught by camera trap.
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Here are 18 facts about the hunting technique and behaviour of the ocelot. I start with some background information to set the scene and the facts are presented in bullet fashion.

  1. The ocelot, throughout a large part of its territory (home range), shares its territory with the jaguar, puma, margay, jaguarundi and oncilla. The presence of the jaguar may affect its hunting method as rarely the larger cat attacks the smaller species.
  2. Ocelots do most of their hunting on the ground despite the fact that they are frequently seen in trees and at one time the experts thought that the ocelot was arboreal i.e. a tree dweller. They are excellent and agile climbers and leapers. There are also strong swimmers and water is not a barrier to them.
  3. They are primary nocturnal but they also hunt during the daytime especially on cloudy and rainy days. In areas where they are hunted, they may be entirely nocturnal.
  4. On full moon nights ocelots avoid walking on trails and stick to hunting activities in bushy areas. It is believed that they find it difficult to stalk prey when illuminated by a full moon.
  5. Ocelots hunt mostly on the ground and at night and they normally prey on animals weighing less than 1 kg which is about a 10% of their bodyweight.
  6. Their main diet consists of mammals such as rabbits, rats mice and opossums and they also eat land crabs, insects, lizards, snakes, fish and birds.
  7. Sometimes they might kill larger prey such as anteaters, peccaries, armadillos, deer and capybaras.
  8. Ocelots need between 600-800 g of food daily and they concentrate on the most common small prey which helps them to achieve this diet.
  9. In Belize, the third most important prey are birds and the second and top prey animals are armadillos and opossums which represent the largest part of the ocelot’s diet
  10. In Peru, more than 9/10 of the ocelot’s diet consists of mainly rice rats and spiny rats and other vertebrates weighing less than 1 kg.
  11. In the dry season, on the flooded savannas of Venezuela, iguanas and rodents are the dominant prey of the ocelot.
  12. In the wet season when crabs become abundant, they feed on them instead together with rodents.
  13. 94% of their prey in Venezuela and Peru consists of prey weighing less than 1 kg. And most prey animals are eaten immediately after the kill. Captive ocelots were observed to pluck feathers from all birds before eating.
  14. When they hunt, ocelots traverse their home ranges and re-traverse it thereby using the area intensively. They have two basic strategies: a move-and-sit technique and a slow hunting walk. They will vary the technique depending upon the prey animal.
  15. When they employ the slow hunting walk, they travel at about 0.3 km/h. While walking they are watching and listening for prey and they attack anything which is suitable when encountered.
  16. When employing the move-and-sit technique they move to a chosen area, sit and wait for 30 to 60 minutes and even longer and then move to another area to do the same thing. When moving between areas they travel up to 3 times faster at up to 1.4 km/h than when employing the slow hunting walk.
  17. One male ocelot was seen to walk for 31 hours out of 34 hours. Males travel farther than females at night and rest less frequently.
  18. Ocelots normally rest between dawn and late afternoon and then they begin moving up to 2 hours before dark. They are normally active for about 12 to 14 hours daily.
Ocelot hunting at night
Ocelot hunting at night. Photo: Joel Sartore via National Geographic. This is a camera trap image.

Below are some more articles on the ocelot.

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