Jaguarundi: A Small and Beautiful South American Cat
The enigma is the jaguarundi (Puma Yagouaroundi). This small South American cat looks different from any other small feline and shows some behavioral similarities to a puma. Recent genetic studies have clarified the confusion that existed for a long time regarding its classification. There is more relatedness between the jaguarundi and the cheetah and puma than between the other South American cats. A complete Puma lineage includes jaguarundis, pumas, and cheetahs, all of which originated in North America based on their DNA.
Despite their large heads, long, slim shapes, and long tails, pumas, cheetahs, and jaguarundis have an un-catlike communication method that includes whistles and chirps. Jaguarundis hardly resemble cats, which also contributes to their confusion about their position in the cat family. With an elongated, low-slung body, its body may be compared to that of a marten, contrary to some comparisons with weasels or otters. Jaguarundis have plain coats like pumas.
Two main color phases can occur in one litter: an iron-gray morph and a red-brown morph. In kittens, spots are present when they are born, but as they grow, the markings disappear. Jaguarundis are most often found where dense cover is mixed with openings and edges, and they hunt in more open areas than other cats. Their primary hunting activity is on the ground during the day, but they can also climb branches with ease.
Standing in a tripod position, balanced on their haunches and tail like a kangaroo, they may spring 6 feet (2 meters) off the ground to swat at a bird or investigate a noise in the bushes. Rodents, birds, and reptiles are their primary prey, but they also catch rabbits, opossums, and armadillos from time to time.
There are still many mysteries surrounding the biology and behavior of the jaguarundi, the most common cat found in Central and South America. Several reports of the cat have been made in the United States, including Florida, but a road kill in Texas in 1986 was the last confirmed sighting of a jaguarundi in the country.