The Jaguarundi

Belize, known for its rich tropical habitat and thick lush forests, is home to many sified as two separate species: “eyra” for the blackish coat and “jaguarundi” for the reddish coat. Local villagers sometimes refer to jaguarundis as “eyras.” Despite the differences in coat color, it has been determined that the two color morphs do mate, and litters are observed containing both. The coat is generally uniform in color, but may be slightly paler on the ventral side. Populations inhabiting tropical rainforests are generally darker and populations inhabiting dryer habitats are often paler than other populations. It has been hypothesized that the coats of Jaguarundis get darker during the winter. The ears are short and rounded, and this is one of the few cat species that do not to have a contrasting color on the backs of the ears.

Belize is home to these strong and ferocious animals. Habitat destruction and human encroachment remain threats to their existence.
Their eyes are small, set closely together, and are light amber or brownish in color. The legs are short and slender, and the tail is long and tapered. Jaguarundis are slightly larger than domesticated house cats with their head and body length ranging from 19.8 to 30.3 inches. The tail is long, ranging from 12.9 to 23.6 inches.

Shoulder height is approximately 19.8 inches, and the weight ranges from 9.9 to 19.8 pounds. Males are slightly larger and heavier than females of the same population. A cat of the lowlands not generally found above 2,000 meters, the jaguarundi otherwise occupies a broad range of both open and closed habitats from dry scrub, swamp and savanna woodland to primary forest. Jaguarundis are more rare and thinly distributed in moist forest types, especially deep rainforest; they have been reported to prefer forest edges and secondary brush communities, but this may be because it is in such areas that these primarily diurnal cats are most frequently seen. In Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the jaguarundis are most frequently associated with riparian (along river banks) and old field habitats. Access to dense ground vegetation appears to determine habitat suitability for the jaguarundi, but of all the small New World felids (cat families), it is most flexible in its ability to occupy diverse environments.

It has been suggested that the jaguarundi prefers to hunt ground-dwelling birds rather than mammals, and analysis of 23 stomachs from Venezuela shows that birds are frequently caught. Rodents, rabbits and reptiles were also found in 40-51% of the stomachs. In Belize, scat analysis indicated that arthropods like centipedes and millipedes are frequently eaten; birds occurred in 22% of scats and rodents in 95%. Jaguarundis have also been observed to prey on fish stranded in a puddle. They are thought to hunt mainly on the ground and have a varied diet, including small rodents, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, quail, wild turkey, reptiles, frogs, fish and domestic poultry. They may occasionally eat leaves and fallen fruit as well, but this is probably only for the moisture content. The body shape would suggest terrestrial habits, but jaguarundi have been observed seeking refuge in trees, often moving from branch to branch.

Jaguarundis mating system is a bit perplexed as the breeding period varies from time to time. Female jaguarundis reach sexual maturity at about two to three years of age. In most of its tropical range, they have no definitive reproductive season, and breeding may occur year-round. In Mexico, the breeding season is reported to occur during November and December.

Litters are often sighted during both March and August, but it is unknown whether a particular female produces more than one litter during the same year. The estrus cycle (sexual heat), lasts about 54 days, with the female showing signs of heat for approximately three days. When in estrus, female jaguarundis will urinate in several locations around their territory, and give out faint cries. A female then rolls on her back as a sign of receptiveness. Mating is accompanied by loud screaming and during copulation the male bites the female on the neck. Dens are typically constructed in hollow logs or dense thickets. Litters ranging in size from one to four kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 to 75 days. Approximately 21 days after birth, the mother starts bringing the kittens small amounts of food, and after 28 days the young are found venturing away from the den. Within 42 days, the kittens are able to eat by themselves. It is unknown how long jaguarundi kittens remain in their mother’s home range. However, in other small cat species, young may remain in the territory for up to one year, with females remaining longer than males. Like most Felids, young jaguarundis are born deaf and blind. However, they are well furred and may be spotted at birth. It is the mother that provides the kittens with food and protection. Until the young can eat solid food, she nurses them. She also provides protection and will move the den when disturbed. Little is known regarding whether the male provides any protection or care to the kittens, but in most other felids the male plays no role in raising young.

These cats are reported to be quite easy to tame, and are said to have been kept as pets by early Central American natives (before the Spanish conquistadors came) to control the rodent populations around villages and crops. Habitat destruction and human encroachment are the main threats to their existence.

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