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Zoo-Ology: Ocelots have lot-sa-spots

July 24, 2011 at 2:24 a.m.

Ocelot

By Judie Farnsworth

"Ocelots have lot-sa-spots, they're underneath, they're up on top. One, two, three, your eyes will pop, counting oce-lot-sa-spots."

These incredibly beautiful, medium-sized cats are excellent climbers, swimmers and are one of the fastest wild cats.

They were once found throughout Texas and east to Arkansas and Louisiana, but are now endangered and considered rare in this country.

With loss of habitat, they presently range from the Rio Grande Valley to Northern Argentina. Habitats can be anything from rainforest to scrubland, but thick cover is essential for ocelots.

There may be as few as 100 of these very secretive animals left in the U.S.

Ocelots are nocturnal animals and ambush hunters. They usually hunt alone. An area of one to four square miles is usual for a female. A male's territory may be several miles larger and overlap more than one female's area by several miles. He's a bit of a philanderer.

Clearing areas for farmland and urban growth has contributed greatly to their decline. There is less protection from predators. Some leave when their lifestyle is upset. Others are killed crossing open highways and other dangerous areas.

Organizations including Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and Texas Department of Transportation work cooperatively to help educate people and give constructive ideas for helping ocelots. Preserving corridors of thick cover as land parcels are developed is strongly encouraged. Kind of like a green belt for ocelots (as well as many other species).

A lot remains to be done, but people are reminded that keeping a balance in the flora and fauna of an area only adds to its vitality and prosperity.

"Lot-sa-spots have ocelots and if you could connect the dots, there would be no matching blots. Tricky oce-lot-sa spots."

Streaks, spots, blotches, dots, rosettes, chains, rings - all are words used to describe markings on this animal's extraordinary fur. The patterns are rather like fingerprints; no two ocelots are exactly alike.

The larger spots (often called rosettes) have a dark center and darker border. They can link together forming chains or stripes. There are two cheek stripes and a stripe from the top of the eye back over the head.

White fur surrounds beautiful eyes. Their undersides are white with small spots and stripes and tails are banded.

"Try to find an ocelot, that's snoozing when the sun is hot. Spots help hide him dot to dot. It's an oce-lot-sa plot."

As spectacular as these markings are to us, they work very well as camouflage. The colors and patterns blend well in natural surroundings. Sunlight dappling through leaves adds to the effect, further helping hide a snoozing ocelot.

Like most wild cats, the backs of the small rounded ears are dark with a white spot. This can help mom keep tabs on a young family when out and about.

Be sure to see the beautiful pair of ocelots at The Texas Zoo.

Visit often and have fun learning.

There is a daily reptile show at 11 a.m. and Keeper Chats at 2 and 3 p.m. All are included in regular admission.

Judie Farnsworth is a long time volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs. She also wrote the ocelot poem.

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