Southern Tiger Cat

Leopardus guttulus

©©Adriano Gambarini

Standard English Name

Southern tiger cat

Scientific Name

Leopardus guttulus

Brazilian common name/s

Gato-do-mato-do-sul, gato-do-mato-pequeno

Distribution Map - IUCN

Click to enlarge

Physical Description

Until recently, the Leopardus guttulus was considered a subspecies of Leopardus tigrinus.  Now, the southern tiger cat is recognized as a legitimate species based on genetic and morphological studies (Trigo et al. 2013a, Nascimento & Feijó 2017). Its sister species, the oncillas, tend to have a more robust size with shorter and thicker tail. Their fur color also varies from light yellow tones to brownish yellow (darker tones than the ones found in species of the north of the country). Rosettes tend to be larger and the ears smaller and more round (Trigo et al. 2013a, Nascimento & Feijó 2017). The belly is covered with pale fur and dark spots. The back portion of the ears are black with a central white spot. Melanism (all dark-colored fur) is relatively common in the species. All fur faces backwards, including the ones on the head and neck (Oliveira & Cassaro 2005). Although morphological differences between southern tiger cat and oncilla have been described, there are considerable variations within each species that can make a precise identification difficult.

Ecology and Habitat

They are found in southern, southeast and central-west regions of Brazil, as well as Paraguay and northeast of Argentina (Nascimento & Feijó 2017). Its main distribution is in Brazil, along the Cerrado and Atlantic Rainforest domain, especially in this last biome (Sartor 2020). There are still many uncertainties about their exact distribution, particularly on limits of occurrence in northern distribution (Oliveira et al. 2016).

The species can occur in different types of habitats (Oliveira et al. 2016), but have a stronger association with forest environments (Goulart et al. 2009, Cruz et al. 2019, Sartor 2020). These felines can be found in alternative areas, close to plantations of exotic species or agriculture, but always in boundary with natural vegetation (Oliveira et al. 2016). Their diet consists basically of small rodents (smaller than 1kg), lizards and small birds (Wang 2002, Tortato 2009, Silva-Pereira et al. 2011, Trigo et al. 2013b, Seibert et al. 2015, Nagy-Reis et al. 2019). The activity pattern varies from nocturnal to metaturnal (active during day and night). They have the capability to adjust their activity pattern in the presence of potential interspecific competitors and humans (Tortato & Oliveira 2005, Di Bitetti et al. 2010, Oliveira-Santos et al. 2012, Massara et al. 2016, Cruz et al. 2018, Nagy-Reis et al. 2019). Few published data exists about species density. The ones that are available vary a lot from 0,08 to 0,87 individuals/km2 (Kasper et al. 2016; Tortato & Oliveira 2005). However, Oliveira et al. (2016), estimates an usual density of 1 to 5 individuals/100 km² through great part of the species distribution.

Threats and Conservation

The destruction and fragmentation of forest environments are considered the species main threats. Besides that, there is the potential of disease transmission from domestic carnivores and the high rates of individual removal from nature, such as run overs, poaching, and slaughtering due to predation of domestic poultry (Oliveira et al. 2016, Peters et al. 2016). It is classified by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as a “vulnerable” species in the world. By ICMBio-MMA, it is considered threatened with extinction in Brazil, under the “vulnerable” category. (Trigo et al. 2018).

General information

Average values with minimum and maximum in parentheses

Body / tail length (cm):

(36,5-53,9)a / (22,8-35)a



Weight (kg) / Height (cm):

2.37 (1,03-4,6)a / -

Living area (km2):


Number of puppies / Gestation (days):

(1-4) / (75-78)

Longevity (years):


Social structure:


Activity pattern:

Noturno e diurno/crepuscular

a Nascimento & Feijó 2017; b Oliveira et al. 2010; c Oliveira & Cassaro 2005

Online links

IUCN redlist( apresenta uma síntese dos conhecimentos atuais sobre a distribuição e estado de conservação.

IUCN Cat Specialist Group species accounts (descrições das espécies de felinos selvagens):


Cruz, P., De Angelo, C., Martínez Pardo, J., Iezzi, M.E., Varela, D., Di Bitetti, M.S. & Paviolo, A. (2019) Cats under cover: Habitat models indicate a high dependency on woodlands by Atlantic Forest felids. Biotropica, 51, 266–278.

Cruz, P., Iezzi, M.E., De Angelo, C., Varela, D., Di Bitetti, M.S. & Paviolo, A. (2018) Effects of human impacts on habitat use, activity patterns and ecological relationships among medium and small felids of the Atlantic Forest. PLoS One, 13, 1–21.

Di Bitetti, M. S., De Angelo, C. D., Di Blanco, Y. E. & Paviolo, A. (2010) Niche partitioning and species coexistence in a Neotropical felid assemblage. Acta Oecologica, 36(4), 403-12.

Goulart, F. V. B., Caceres, N. C., Graipel, M. E., Tortato, M. A., Ghizoni, I. R. Jr., Gustavo, L. & Oliveira-Santos, R. (2009) Habitat selection by large mammals in a southern Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Mammalian Biology, 74, 182-90.

Kasper, C. B., Schneider, A. & Oliveira, T. G. de. (2016) Home range and density of three sympatric felids in the southern Atlantic Forest, Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Biology, 76, 228-232.

Massara, R. L., Paschoal, A. M. O., Bailey, L. L., Doherty, Jr. P. F. & Chiarello, A. G. (2016) Ecological interactions between ocelots and sympatric mesocarnivores in protected areas of the Atlantic Forest, southeastern Brazil. Journal of Mammalogy, 97(6):1634–1644.

Nascimento F. O. & Feijó A. (2017) Taxonomic revision of the tigrina Leopardus tigrinus

(Schreber, 1775) species group (Carnivora, Felidae). Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia, Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo, 57(19), 231-264.

Nagy-Reis, M. B., Iwakami, V. H. S., Estevo, C. A., Setz, E. Z. F. (2019) Temporal and dietary segregation in a neotropical small-felid assemblage and its relation to prey activity. Mammalian Biology, 95, 1–8.

Oliveira, T., Trigo, T., Tortato, M., Paviolo, A. & Bianchi, R. and Leite-Pitman, M.R.P. (2016)

Leopardus guttulus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T54010476A54010576.

Oliveira, T. G., Tortato, M. A., Silveira, L., Kasper, C. B., Mazim, F. D., Lucherini, M., Jácomo, A. T. A., Soares, J. B. G., Marques, R. V., & Sunquist, M. E. (2010). Ocelot ecology and its effect on the small-felid guild in the lowland Neotropics. In D. W. Macdonald & A. Loveridge (Eds.), Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids (pp. 563-584). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oliveira, T. G., & Cassaro, K. (2005). Guia de Campo dos Felinos do Brasil. São Paulo, SP: Instituto Pró-Carnívoros/Fundação Parque Zoológico de São Paulo/SZB/Pró-Vida Brasil.

Oliveira-Santos, L. G. R., Graipel, M. E., Tortato, M. A., Zucco, C. A., Cáceres, N. C. & Goulart, F. V. B. (2012) Abundance changes and activity flexibility of the oncilla, Leopardus tigrinus (Carnivora: Felidae), appear to reflect avoidance of conflict. Zoologia, 29 (2), 115–120.

Peters, F. B., Mazim, F. D., Favarini, M. O., Soares, J. B., Oliveira, T. G. (2016) Caça preventiva ou retaliativa de felinos por humanos no extremo sul do Brasil. In: Castaño-Uribe C., Lasso C. A., Hoogesteijn R., Diaz-Pulido A. & Payán E. (Eds). II. Conflictos entre felinos y humanos en América Latina. Serie Editorial Fauna Silvestre Neotropical. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (IAvH), Bogotá, D. C., Colombia.

Sartor, C. C. (2020) Influência do ambiente e degradação do habitat na ocorrência e fluxo gênico de duas espécies de felídeos neotropicais (Leopardus guttulus e L. geoffroyi). (Ph.D. Dissertation). Instituto de Biociências da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, 124 p.

Seibert, J. B., Moreira, D. O., Mendes, S. L. & Gatti, A. (2015) Diet of two sympatric felids (Leopardus guttulus and Leopardus wiedii) in a remnant of Atlantic forest, in the montane region of Espírito Santo, southeastern Brazil. Boletim do Museu de Biologia Mello Leitão (N. Sér.), 37(2), 193-200.

Silva-Pereira, J. E., Moro-Rios, R. F., Bilski, D. R. & Passos, F. C. (2011) Diets of three sympatric Neotropical small cats: Food niche overlap and interspecies differences in prey consumption. Mammalian Biology, 76(3), 308-12.

Tortato M. A. (2009) Disponibilidade e uso de presas na dieta do gato-do-mato-pequeno, Leopardus tigrinus (Schreber, 1775) em área de restinga no sul do Brasil. MSc Thesis, Universidade Federal do Paraná.

Tortato, M. A. & Oliveira, T.G. de. (2005) Ecology of the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) at Serra do Tabuleiro State Park, Southern Brazil. Cat News, 42, 28-30.

Trigo, T. C., Schneider, A., de Oliveira, T. G., Lehugeur, L. M., Silveira, L., Freitas, T. R. O & Eizirik, E. (2013a). Molecular data reveal complex hybridization and a cryptic species of Neotropical wild cat. Current Biology 23, 1-6.

Trigo, T. C., Tirelli, F. P., Machado, L. F., Peters, F. B., Indrusiak, C. B., Mazim, F. D., Sana, D., Eizirik, E. & Freitas, T. R. O. (2013b). Geographic distribution and food habits of Leopardus tigrinus and L. geoffroyi (Carnivora, Felidae) at their geographic contact zone in southern Brazil. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 48, 56-67.

Trigo, T. C., Oliveira, T. G., Tortato, M. A., Almeida, L. B., Campos, C. B. & Beisiegel, B. M. (2018). Leopardus guttulus. In: Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade. (Org.). Livro Vermelho da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçada de Extinção: Volume II – Mamíferos. Brasília: ICMBio. p. 340-344.

Wang, E. (2002). Diets of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), margays (L. wiedii), and oncillas (L. tigrinus) in the Atlantic rainforest in southeast Brazil. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 37, 207-212.

Learn more about Brazilian carnivore species