Leopardus is a genus of small spotted cats mostly native to Middle and South America. Very few range into the southern United States. The genus is considered the oldest branch of the part of the cat family to cross into the Americas, followed by the genera Lynx and Puma. (The jaguar is the other extant cat native to the Americas.) The largest species in Leopardus is the ocelot; most of the other species resemble domestic housecats in size, with the kodkod (L. guigna) being the smallest cat in the Americas. The margay (L. wiedii) is more highly adapted to arboreal life than any other cat in the Americas.[2]

Despite the name, leopards are members of genus Panthera, not Leopardus.


There has been some revision of this branch of Felidae in recent years. Leopardus was previously regarded as a subgenus of the genus Felis. The Pantanal and Pampas cats were previously considered subspecies of the colocolo.

Genetic studies indicate the genus Leopardus forms a distinct clade within the feline subfamily, and first evolved in South America around 10 to 12e million years ago (Mya). Within the genus, two distinct evolutionary lineages appear to exist; one leading to the ocelot, margay, and Andean mountain cat, and the other leading to the remaining species.[3]



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  1. Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 537–540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. Reid, Fiona A. (2009). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-19-534323-6.
  3. Johnson, W.E. et. al. (1998). "Tracking the evolution of the elusive Andean mountain cat (Oreailurus jacobitus) from mitochondrial DNA" (PDF). Journal of Heredity. 89 (3): 227–232. doi:10.1093/jhered/89.3.227. PMID 9656464.
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