Overview: The jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) 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™.
This page has been checked, added-to and republished as at Jan 24, 2022. It was first published on this site in June 2009.
There is more to know about the jaguarundi, despite being the most commonly seen wild cat in Central and South America. At the time of publication of the Wild Cats of the World (2002) only three research projects had captured and radio tracked this wild cat. And of those only one had tracked more than three cats. The date of publication is important for all articles on wild cats because their populations and ranges are declining and shrinking – i.e. changing, making older information out of date.
Below is series of three photographs of the jaguarundi, all of which are copyright Jim Sanderson Ph.D. They show the cat with Jim and in captivity. Thanks Jim. Jim Sanderson is probably the foremost expert on the small wild cats.
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 photographs bear this out. It somewhat has the appearance of a weasel or an otter (or perhaps a marten) at first glance, but the video 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 head, 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 to those of the serval. In addition, unusually for a wild cat, there are no white or light spots (ocelli) at the back of the ears, which serve a communication function (to signal an aggressive mode).
As I said the coat is ticked and there are two colour types (“phases” as the experts have called them). 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 wild cat species weighing 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.
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.
The name jaguarundi is derived from Tupi-Guarani. They domesticated them, and the original form is jawarundi, which drifted to jaguarundi in American Spanish. And 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
Scientific name: Herpailurus yagouaroundi. 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.
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.
Distribution 2022 and habitat
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 cover 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:
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 wild cats, 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),
In Belize research indicated the following percentages of prey found in “scats” (excrement, dung):
|Arthropod (invertebrate animals that include the insects, crustaceans, arachnids, and myriapods having an exoskeleton)||72|
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)|
Vocalisations and markings
As to vocalizations, the question for me is, “do they meow?” Well they:
- make the wah-wah call
- purr (like domestic cats)
- chatter (domestic cats chatter when they are practicing killing birds) and
- yap….and they
- hiss (see video below)
- see and hear jaguarundi kittens screaming at each other!
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!
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.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) Assessment – Threats – Conservation
Assessment is classified as Least Concern (LC) as at 2022.
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 justifies 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.
- 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).
- University of Michigan
- Red List
- Wild Cats Of The World (major) – a great book
- 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.