With a range that stretches from Texas to Argentina, ocelots live in grasslands, marshes, scrub thickets, jungles and forests. These small cats reach 2 to 4.5 feet long and weigh 24 to 35 pounds. They’re nocturnal hunters whose diet can include birds, rodents, reptiles, fish and even monkeys. In the wild, their life span is 10 to 13 years, while they can survive two decades in captivity.
Female ocelots start estrus when they’re between 18 months and 2 years old. Males often develop a little more slowly, reaching sexual maturity around 2.5 years, although some need only half that time. In captivity, females have continued birthing kittens until they’re around 13 years old.
In the tropical parts of their range, ocelots can breed at any time of year. Further north, though, they usually reproduce only during the fall and winter. A male ocelot’s range might overlap with several females, bringing them into proximity for procreation. A female who’s ready to breed attracts a male by yowling, and they mate until she becomes pregnant.
Pregnancy and Birth
When the pregnancy begins, the male’s role ends. The female ocelot prepares a den, usually in heavy vegetation, and about 85 days after mating, she gives birth. Litters range from one to four kittens, although two is average. At birth, the kittens have dark coats that blend into the shadows; as they mature, they develop the rich, beautiful pelts for which ocelots are known.
Female ocelots nurse their kittens for only six weeks but continue parenting them for up to two years. For the first five or six months, the mother brings food to the kittens, but after that, she teaches them to hunt. They’re typically full-sized by the time they reach 8 to 10 months old and are capable of surviving on their own by the time they’re a year old. Often, though, they remain with their mother until they’re 18 months to 2 years old. She won’t have another litter until her adult offspring have left to find their own territories.