Each of these felines is a Pampas cat.
Why so many different looks?
Despite their name, Pampas cats live in more than one place. They’re actually amazingly flexible. And each look meets the cat’s camouflage needs for a particular setting.
To take the most extreme example, plain mousy colors (top left in the above image) blend well into South America’s grasslands, while a colorful, spotted coat (bottom left) is so suitable for stark High Andes landscapes that another small feline up there, the Andean cat, has it, too (insider tip from the Cat Specialist Group: to tell them apart, look for the Pampas cat’s pink nose).
There are almost as many common names for Pampas cats as there are looks.
Most widely used are:
- “Pajeros” — cats of the Andes eastern slopes and farther south, on lesser heights, to Patagonia.
- “Colocolo” — the cat’s name in mid-level forests in central Chile and on parts of the western Andes high steppe.
- “Pantanal cats” — those of the lowland woods and grassy areas of Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay (though not in rainforests).
Those locations are from Garcia-Perea. Other sources might see things differently. It is very hard to pin down information about the Pampas cat.
Modern science has tackled the challenge of classifying Pampas cats in several ways down through the years. Currently, this little kitty is known as Leopardus colocola.
Colocolo reportedly was a native leader who fought the conquistadors, so I’m not sure why the Cat Classification Task Force insists on an “a” here — it probably has something to do with the rules of taxonomy, per Kitchener et al.
Researchers say that Pampas cats have seven, somewhat differently structured genetic groups. It’s still unclear whether or not these are subspecies (pajeros and braccatus are often suggested for subspecies, along with colocolo/colocola). (Kitchener et al)
In fact, say these experts, Pampas cats might even be a whole complex of individual species!
Understanding what Pampas cats are and why they evolved this way is a high research priority today.
Pampas cats have other noteworthy points besides their variable appearance:
- While they occasionally live in forests, Pampas cats are the only small wild cat in South America’s lowlands that specializes in open habitats. (de Oliveira et al.)
- That said, Pampas cats also inhabit more kinds of habitats than any other South American cat, including the pampas of Uruguay and Argentina; thornscrub in Paraguay; open woods and grasslands in central Brazil; the Pantanal floodplain of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay; closed-canopy forests in Chile; both slopes of the Andes; and the cold, semi-arid deserts of Patagonia.
- Hybridization, possibly extensive, with little tiger cats in central Brazil. (Culver et al.) Researchers report that the entire mitochondrial genome of some little tiger cats in Brazil has been replaced by that originating in the Pampas cat! (da Silva Santos et al.) As far as they know right now, this doesn’t seem to be going on so much with another small neighbor: Geoffroy’s cat.
This information is from the Cat Specialist Group, except where noted.
- Weight: 7 to 9 pounds.
- Height at the shoulder: 12 to 14 inches. (International Society for Endangered Cats)
- Body length: 17 to 31 inches
- Tail length: 9 to 13 inches.
- Coat: As above. The spotted forms generally have short, soft fur, while the coat of plain-colored Pampas cats is long and coarse. Some individuals have a sort of mane — this video shows a situation where such hair could be very useful:
Melanistic Pampas cats have been reported, but they are sometimes confused with house cats. (Macdonald et al.; Sunquist and Sunquist)
- Vocals: Similar to other small cats, including Fluffy. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
- Litter size: 1 to 3 kittens. This video shows Mom and a very young kitten:
Where found in the wild:
Look for Pampas cats in what’s called the “cone” of South America — the narrow part of the continent, pointing towards Antarctica — as well as northward on the west into the countries of Peru and Ecuador (possibly also a little way into Colombia), and on the east, up into northern Brazil.
- Range of environments: Pampas cats have been recorded at elevations of more than 16,000 feet, but they typically stay at lower altitudes, leaving the heights to Andean cats. (Macdonald et al.) This video shows the high-elevation environment that Pampas cats have adapted to (as well as some incredible close-ups of curious cats):
The widest variety of Pampas cat habitats comes in the middle elevations of South America, ranging from some 200 feet above sea level in the Pantanal up to around 3,000 to 5,000 feet. For example, here are two Pampas cats in the open woodlands of an Argentine national park
In Patagonia, Pampas cats are very rare but have been seen in coastal regions.
- Prey base: Wherever they live, Pampas cats presumably take small prey, generally rodents and other mammals, as well as ground-dwelling birds. In Patagonia, they even raid penguin nests! However, researchers say that much more needs to be learned about how these little cats live in the wild.
- Example of guild: In the Andes, Pampas cats must deal with foxes, as well as pumas and Andean cats. At lower elevations, Pampas cats and Geoffroy’s cats have a very similar distribution, with little tiger cats present in parts of Brazil.
Featured image: Top left: ZooPro via Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leopardus_pajeros_20101006.jpg#mw-jump-to-license , CC BY-SA 3.0. Bottom left: Mcelite via Wikimedia (Ukrainian), https://uk.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Файл:Pampas_Cat_in_Cincinnati_Zoo.jpg , CC BY-SA 3.0; Right: Prefeitura de Belo Horizonte, https://www.flickr.com/photos/portalpbh/8390337302 , public domain.
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