Species Facts: The Guigna/Kodkod


We’ve met the biggest cat in the Americas — now it’s time to meet the smallest.

This little cutie has two common names: kodkod (a local native word) and guigna (Spanish).

Some experts think that “kodkod” might refer to another wild cat (one that we’ll meet next Friday), so let’s call the Chilean spotted cat a “guigna” (as in ‘whee-nya‘).



Guignas come in black, too. There is probably a wealth of information in this video, if you understand Spanish; I can read it a little, but can’t translate here — sorry! Nevertheless, in any language this little kitty enjoying its fish munchies is adorable!


Scientific name(s):

Leopardus guigna. (An earlier name was Oncifelis guigna, but the boffins changed that back in 2006.)

What few guignas are around come in two subspecies:

  1. L. g. tigrillo, in northern and central Chile. This group, living in a drier, more open environment, is larger and has a lighter coat.
  2. L. g. guigna, in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina. These inhabit the Valdivian rainforest and are not only a little smaller than their northern relatives but also darker. Black guignas have been observed in this group but not in L. g. tigrillo.

Lineage:

Ocelot.

Data:

These are from the Cat Specialist Group (CSG) website unless otherwise noted. However, keep in mind something Freer (in source list at end of post) notes:

Very little is known of the ecology and life history of the guigna, and much of that which has been published to date relies heavily upon speculation and folklore.

  • Weight: 3 to 7 pounds
  • Height at the shoulder: 9 inches (Freer)
  • Body length: 15 to 22 inches
  • Tail length: 8 to 10 inches

    Mauro Tammone, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

  • Coat: The background color of this dark-spotted cat is usually buff to grayish or reddish brown, with a lighter color on its spotted tummy. The face has unique markings and the tail is banded. In some places, almost 30% of the southern subspecies population may be black (CSG; Freer).
  • Average litter size: 1 to 4 kittens
  • Average life span: Up to 11 years.

Features unique to this cat:

Guignas are the tiniest cat in the New World. And globally, only the black-footed and rusty-spotted cats are smaller than the guigna.

They also have the smallest range of any cat, being limited to part of Chile and a very narrow strip of adjacent western Argentina.

Finally, guignas are the only native carnivore in Patagonia’s Andean forest, which is very close to the Valdivian rainforest.

Where found in the wild:

BhagyaMani via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Look for guignas in central and southern Chile, as well as along the border with Argentina (where it’s easy to mistake them for a close relative and lookalike: Geoffroy’s cat).

Such wee cats depend on cover for protection as well as to stalk prey.

That’s why guignas are always found in forests, typically the southern rainforest for L. g. guigna and the thick-leaved Mediterranean-like matorral farther north for L. g. tigrillo.



This is what Chile’s matorral looks like.
Guigna habitat here is fragmented or disappearing because the matorral is also home to more than half of Chile’s human population.


Closest cat-family relatives:

According to Johnson et al, guignas, along with the very closely related Geoffroy’s cat, are the newest species in a feline lineage that goes back at least 3 million years.

Besides ocelots, this lineage includes margays and several little Neotropical cats that we’re going to look at in more detail over the next few weeks.

This study also showed that guignas aren’t as closely related to house cats as the leopard cat is. They last shared a common ancestor with Fluffy some 8 million years ago!

How guignas hunt and live:

Until very recently, only museum specimens were available for study. Guignas are very difficult to observe in the wild.

Camera traps are helping:



This diminutive cat goes after small prey — rodents, birds (including domestic poultry), lizards, and and other inhabitants of the dense undergrowth that guignas call home.

At first, no one was even certain whether they hunted on the ground or in trees (they’re agile climbers), but a consensus is building that guignas are indeed terrestrial predators.

They hunt either at night or during the day. When not active, guignas have been observed resting in trees or in dense brush piles along streams and gullies.

How they reproduce:

No one really knows. The only other information I could find about this, besides the estimated 1 to 4 kittens per litter, was from Freer who speculated, based on observations of Geoffroy’s cat, that guignas in southern Chile may have a breeding season in early spring (August and September), with a 72- to 78-day gestation.

Interactions with people:

When someone meets a guigna, it’s headline news in Chile.



Again, sorry for the inability to translate this! I think it happened in a suburb, and they found the guigna near a matorral fish pond.


Guignas in the northern part of their range have the most encounters; fewer people live in southern Chile, where there are more parks and other protected natural areas, and the cats are less often sighted here.

Unfortunately, guignas everywhere have a reputation — only very occasionally earned — for raiding poultry houses. As a result, they’re often killed in rural areas as pests.

Fossil relatives:

None have been found yet.

Red-listed?

Yes, as Vulnerable (high risk for extinction).

Guignas depend on forest cover, and as is true elsewhere in the world, logging and other human activities are reducing this cat’s habitat.

In addition, there is persecution from poultry farmers. Local dogs and traffic also cause fatalities.

Ironically, local housecats can be a threat, too. In some areas, they appear to be spreading feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) to guignas.

Even though guignas to the south live in protected areas, wildlife conservationists are concerned for their long-term chances, since the cats need more room than that for hunting and reproducing.

Conservation efforts are focused on education and other efforts to build public support for guignas. As well, corridors of forested land and road-crossings (culverts and under- or overpasses) are also necessary to keep otherwise isolated populations, particularly in the north, in contact with other guignas.



Saving guignas one by one. Per my tranhslation, this little feline was caught in a house. It had a broken foreleg and was released after treatment and two months of rehabilitation.



Sources:

Allen, W. L.; Cuthill, I. C.; Scott-Samuel, N. E.; and Baddeley, R. 2011. Why the leopard got its spots: relating pattern development to ecology in felids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 278: 1373-1380.

Cat Specialist Group. 2019. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=92 Last accessed September 2, 2019.

Ewer, R. F. 1973. The carnivores. The World Naturalist, ed. Carrington, R. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Freer, R. A. 2004. The spatial ecology of the güiña (Oncifelis guigna) in southern Chile (pp. 1-219). Durham (UK): University of Durham. Available at Durham E-Theses Online http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3050/

Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; and others. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science, 311:73-77.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/32616/A_revised_Felidae_Taxonomy_CatNews.pdf

Macdonald, D. W.; Loveridge, A. J.; and Nowell, K. 2010b. Dramatis personae: An introduction to the wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 3-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Napolitano, C.; Johnson, W. E.; Sanderson, J.; O’Brien, S. J.; and others. 2014. Phylogeography and population history of Leopardus guigna, the smallest American felid. Conservation genetics, 15(3): 631-653.

Napolitano, C.; Gálvez, N.; Bennett, M.; Acosta-Jamett, G.; and Sanderson, J. 2015. Leopardus guigna. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15311A50657245. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15311/50657245

Nyakatura, K., and Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology. 10:12.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

Schneider, A.; Henegar, C.; Day, K.; Absher, D.; and others. 2015. Recurrent evolution of melanism in South American felids. PLoS Genetics, 11(2), e1004892.

Shostell, J. M., and Ruiz-Garcia, M. 2013. An introduction to neotropical carnivores, in Molecular Population Genetics, Evolutionary Biology and Biological Conservation of the Neotropical Carnivores. p, 1-36.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IF8nDwAAQBAJ

Turner, A., and M. Antón. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives: An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2019. Kodkod. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodkod Last accessed September 2, 2019.



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