The Pantanal cat (Leopardus braccatus) is a small feline of tropical South America. It is named after the Pantanal wetlands in central South America, but mainly occurs in grassland, shrubland, savannas and deciduous forests. It has traditionally been treated as a subspecies of the larger colocolo, but was split primarily based on differences in pelage colour/pattern and cranial measurements. This split is not supported by genetic work, leading some authorities to maintain that it is a subspecies of the colocolo, although others regard it as "likely [a] distinct species", and the validity of the genetic work has been questioned.
Pantanal cats are small felines, roughly the size of a domestic cat. They have yellowish or brown fur with dark brown spots on the flanks, a whitish throat, two dark lines on each cheek, black stripes on the legs and chest, and black feet and tail-tip. The ears are large and pointed, with dark grey to black fur, and sometimes a pale marking on the posterior surface. There is a single report of a wild melanistic individual from Brazil, although this coat pattern has also been observed in some captive specimens.
Two subspecies can be identified on the basis of their coat pattern. L. b. braccatus is almost entirely rusty-brown with faint spots, continuous bands and a prominent black tip on the tail, and all-black feet. L. b. munoai is paler and more yellowish, has flank spots that are browner and more distinct, feet that are only black on the soles, and discontinuous rings and a narrow black tip on the tail.
The fur is generally longer on Pantanal cats than on other closely related species, although the crest of longer hair running down the back is less distinct. The claws are retractile and sharply curved.
Distribution and habitat
Pantanal cats are found from sea level to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) in east-central Brazil, Uruguay, and neighbouring regions of central South America (Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina). Within this region, they inhabit a range of habitats from open grassland to dense forest, although they are specifically named for the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It has also been reported from agricultural land, and therefore must have some limited tolerance for human disturbance.
- Leopardus braccatus braccatus (Cope, 1889) – central Brazil, eastern Paraguay, extreme eastern Bolivia, and parts of north-eastern Argentina.
- Leopardus braccatus munoai (Ximenez, 1961) – Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, and Uruguay.
Behaviour and diet
Pantanal cats are diurnal and solitary, inhabiting home ranges of 3 to 37 square kilometres (1.2 to 14 sq mi). They are carnivorous, feeding on small mammals, such as cavies, ground-dwelling birds, small lizards, and snakes. In most respects, they are believed to be similar in behaviour and biology to the colocolo. Hybrids between the Pantanal cat and oncilla are known from Brazil.
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