When I left Nicaragua, we only had 9 of the 30 camera traps on hand. Nonetheless, our team was still very anxious to see what we got so far. Our field-savvy biologist recovered some initial photos from Colon. Although no jaguars yet, we did detect a couple very interesting wild cat species. We discovered the ocelot and the jaguarundi!! "Jaguar-que?" or "Jaguar-what?" is the typical response or else I get a look of confusion when I tell people the news. These two small cat species are similar in size and specialize on hunting prey smaller than themselves such as small mammals, birds, fish, crabs, frogs, insects and lizards. They both use their sleek bodies and camouflage to blend into the forest undergrowth as they stalk their prey. Once they get close enough to where they feel they are as close as they can get without being noticed, they quickly pounce on their prey. They both specialize on hunting on the ground and are comfortable climbing trees and swimming but the ocelot is known to be an exceptional climber and swimmer.
Some Other Cool Differences are the Following:
Lineage: Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are the largest members of the genus Leopardus which includes other central and south American small spotted cats such as the margay, Geoffrey's cat, and oncilla. In fact, ocelots closely resemble margays and oncillas with size being the main noticeable difference.
Jaguarundis (Puma yagouaroundi) are the only other members of genus Puma besides mountain lions (Puma concolor, a.k.a cougar or puma). Yes-this odd-looking cat species is the most closely related to P22 in Griffith park than any other cat species! (Side note: pumas are not considered part of the genus belonging to big cats (Panthera), and one main characteristic the puma doesn't share with the big cats is that it can't roar). Unlike the ocelot, the jaguarundi's appearance is probably the most unlike that of a cat more than any other cat species.
Physical Features and Behavior of the Jaguarundi and Ocelot:
The most obvious difference is that the jaguarundi comes in one of two uniform colors, either chestnut brown or a greyish black. The jaguarundi also has a distinctly weasel or otter-like elongated body and long tail. The jaguarundi's ears are also pretty round and small in proportion to the rest of the body. As a result, it is also known as the "otter cat."
The ocelot is known in Nicaragua as "tigrillo" and is also known as the dwarf leopard because of its beautiful black markings. The undercoat can range from reddish brown to greyish but all have unique black markings (rosettes, spots, stripes). I hope to use the distinct arm-band on the ocelot's left front leg to see if we re-capture him/her on the same or another one of our camera traps.
Hours of Activity:
The ocelot is primarily nocturnal (active at night) whereas the jaguarundi is primarily diurnal (active during the day). The detection of jaguarundis was exciting because it is less popular than jaguars or even ocelots, offering me the excuse to learn and share interesting facts about this fascinating species. I was even inspired to name our new black kitten "Rundi" (short for jaguarundi) because we discovered her at a local shelter the same day I discovered the camera trap photo of the jaguarundi. Her tail also seems longer than the average kitten, making her an exceptional cat just like the jaguarundi.
Some other notable mammals that we captured on camera so far include agouti (small rodent), rabbits, armadillo, and local Nicaraguans. The other camera traps are almost all installed so a ton of exciting photos should be coming in soon...