Leopardus geoffroyiGeoffroy's cat

Geographic Range

Leopardus geoffroyi occurs throughout most of the southern half of South America. This includes Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Patagonia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uraguay. Tge species is widely distributed with the exception of southern Chile, where it is only found east of the Andes (Garman,1997; Nowak, 1999).

Habitat

L. geoffroyi has a widely varied habitat, and occurs from sea level through 3,500 m elevations. It primarily lives along rivers in dense, scrubby vegetation. It has also been found in open woodlands and savannas, marshes and even grasslands, although it avoids open areas. These felids are sometimes arboreal, and a high percentage of its feces is found in trees. They are also very good swimmers (IUCN,1996; Garman,1997).

  • Range elevation
    Sea level to 3500 m
    to 11482.94 ft

Physical Description

Geoffroy's cat is a small wild cat, about the size of a large domestic cat, with males being larger than females. The head and body length of this cat ranges from 422 to 665 mm, with the tail adding an additional 240 to 365 mm to the total length. It weighs from three to five kg and stands about 30 cm high. Its coat color varies from a silver-grey to a yellowish-brown. The color of the fur varies geographically, with the more yellow forms in the northern part of the species' range, and the more silver colored forms in the south. The fur is marked with a pattern of small, uniformly spaced, dark brown or black spots all over the body. Two black streaks run down each cheek. Melanism is fairly common. The tail is ringed. (Nowak, 1999; IUCN,1996; Garman,1997).

  • Range mass
    3 to 5 kg
    6.61 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    422 to 665 mm
    16.61 to 26.18 in

Reproduction

Females go into estrus about every twenty days, with estrus lasting two to six days. The mating system of this felid is unknown. However, the home ranges of adult males overlap those of several adult females, but do not overlap those of other males (Nowak, 1999; Garman, 1997; IUCN, 1996). This, coupled with the larger size of males, indicates some level of competetion between males for mates, and therefore some level of polygyny.

Breeding season for L. geoffroyi occurs from December to May. Females may produce one litter of one to four cubs per year. Geoffroy's cat frequently mates in trees.

The females have a gestation period of 67-78 days. The female gives birth in a den of bushes, a rock crevice, or sometimes even a nook in a tree (Garman,1997). Young weigh 65-123 g at birth. They are born blind, but their eyes open within 8-12 days. They develop quickly. They can stand at about four days old, and by six weeks are fearless climbers. They can walk after two or three weeks. These cats are weaned at 8 to 10 weeks and become completely independent of the mother after about eight months. Sexual maturity is reached between 14 and 24 months (Nowak, 1999; IUCN,1996).

  • Breeding season
    December-May
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
    2.57
  • Range gestation period
    67 to 78 days
  • Average gestation period
    65.3 days
  • Range weaning age
    56 to 70 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    14 to 24 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    21.00 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    14 to 24 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    21.00 months

The females raise the young. They nurse them until they are about 8 weeks old. After about 8 months, the kittens become independent of the mother. The males are not involved in the rearing of the young (Nowak, 1999; Garman,1997).

Lifespan/Longevity

This cat lives about fourteen to fifteen years on average. However, in captivity they can live up to 20 years (Garman,1997 and IUCN,1996).

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 to 15 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 to 15 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    14 to 20 years

Behavior

L. geoffroyi is primarily nocturnal, but has been seen hunting at dawn and dusk. It likes water, and is an avid swimmer. Secretive and solitary, it spends much of its time in the trees. These cats have been known to sleep and mate in the trees. They are quite agile, and have even been known to walk on the underside of a branch. Males and females do not interact much, other than to mate. Females home ranges are about 2.5 square km. Males territories may be as much as three times the size of females. Female ranges may overlap each other, as well as males ranges. Although male ranges may overlap the females ranges, they do not overlap other males. They have a density of about 1.2 individuals per ten square km. Most people are not scared of this small cat, but should be, because it is very aggressive, and has never been truly domesticated (Johnson,1999 and IUCN,1996).

Communication and Perception

Not much is known about how this felid communicates. It is likely that, as with other felids, there are some vocalizations and possible some chemical communications between conspecifics. It is likely that tactile and visual communication, especially between a mother and her young, are also present.

Food Habits

This felid is a hunter, and not a very picky one. It includes a wide variety of animals in its diet, which is dominated by introduced prey, specifically European hares. It will eat just about any kind of meat it can get a hold of; however its most abundant food items are hamsters and hares. P. geoffroyi hunts in trees and on the ground, and is also known to fish (Novaro,1999; IUCN,1996).

Foods eaten include: birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, wild guinea pigs, small agoutis, hares and other small mammals.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish

Predation

Geoffroy's cat has a camoflaged pelage, but this is believed to be primarily for their own benefit as predators (i.e. to hide them from prey, rather than to hide them from predators). other possible adaptations to reduce predation have nit been reported. (IUCN,1996).

Ecosystem Roles

This cat is very opportunistic in terms of what it eats, so it helps to control small animal populations in the wild. It also has a wide range, so it helps control various populations of small vertebrates over a large portion of South America (Novaro,1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species was heavily hunted for its beautiful pelts from the late 1960's into the mid 1980's, and is the most abundant species of spotted cat in the skin trade (IUCN,1996; Garman,1997; Nowak, 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Geoffroy's cats are aggressive and have never been fully domesticated, and so they are a truly wild cat. They may also be pests as livestock predators (IUCN,1996).

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

L. geoffroyi is the least protected of all the small cats, having the lowest AZA conservation rank. They are the most common wild cat in South America. However, they are also the most commonly hunted, and population trends are that they are decreasing. IUCN lists the species as Near Threatened, and change the status to Vulnerable if the downward population trend continues. CITES lists the species as Appendix I.

In the seventies and eighties, L. geoffroyi was heavily hunted for fur coats, which was legal at the time. It takes approximately 25 cat skins to make one fur coat. 350,000 skins were exported between 1976 and 1979 in Argentina alone, and over 500,000 total from South America in the early eighties. The fur trade has since declined, but about 55,000 pelts are still traded yearly. However, it is believed that most of these pelts are from cats killed that were pests or threats to livestock populations. Commercial hunting has essentially ceased, but these cats are still considered endangered. Habitat destruction also affects these cats. Not enough time has passed since the hunting has been stopped to determine their status, but they are now fully protected (IUCN,1996; Garman,1997).

Other Comments

This cat was named after the 19th-century French naturalist, Geoffroy St. Hilaire (Nowak, 1999).

A study was done comparing DNA from Geoffroy's cat to DNA from three other neotropical small cat species. Geoffroy's cat had some monophyletic clustering and is believed to have diverged from these three other feline species 2.0 million years ago (Johnson,1999).

Contributors

Summer Edwards (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor), Humboldt State University.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Garman, A. 1997. "Big Cats Online" (On-line). Accessed November 12, 2001 at http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman/bco/geoffrey.htm.

IUCN, 1996. "CSG Species Accouts: Geoffroy's Cat (Oncifelis Geoffroyi)" (On-line). Accessed November 8, 2001 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/geoff-01.htm.

Johnson, W., J. Slattery, E. Eizirik, J. Kim, M. Raymond. December 1st, 1999. Disparate phylogeographic patterns of molecular genetic variation in four closely related South American small cat species. Molecular Ecology, 8 (12): S79-S94.

Novaro, A., M. Funes, R. Walker. April 16, 1999. Ecological extinction of native prey of a carnivore assemblage in Argentine Patagonia. Biological Conservation, 92 (2000): 25-33.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.