What do you get when you put an otter and a wild cat together? You get a Jaguarundi! Not exactly an otter, this wild feline closely resembles the small water creature, due to its long, slender body, unmarked coat, short legs, small flat head, and long otter-like tail.
Larger than a domestic cat but smaller than a jaguar or panther, the Jaguarundi can reach a length of 50 inches and weigh up to 20 pounds. Native to Central and South America, they are lowland cats not generally found above 6,500 feet and occupy wide ranges of both open and closed habitats.
Jaguarundis have been spotted in areas spanning from Texas, coastal Mexico, and have been known to have a surprisingly vast population in Florida since the early 20th century. Its presence in these areas outside of its home territory of Southern and Central America has stumped many as it is outside its normal range.
“Tropical species can survive quite well in Florida’s subtropical environment,” reports Charlie Carlson of The Jaguarundi Project. “Florida’s leading Jaguarundi researcher is award winning cryptozoologist (the study of hidden animals) Lisa Wojcik. Wojcik’s research strongly suggest that the Jaguarundi presence in Florida is attributed to human introduction between 1934 and the 1940s.”
Wojcik believes that there were “three different storylines” to the Jaguarundi’s existence in the area. “The first one being that they were escaped exotic pets let loose in the 1940s; and the second that, in 1934 or the early 1940s, a bankrupt circus let its animals go free,” she said.
However, the third possibility seem more plausible through her research of Chiefland, Florida where she discovered in the 1940s a writer may have introduced the Jaguarundi from Mexico or Honduras by releasing them in state parks and wildlife refuges.
Whichever way they were introduced in North America, Jaguarundis have been able to survive in a number of areas due to their diet and hunting skills. Unlike Florida panthers and bobcats, the Jaguarundi is a day hunter and eats a variety of small creatures found in the U.S. Their diet consists of rodents, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, quail, wild turkey, reptiles, frogs, fish and domestic poultry.
So the next time you check out your backyard and you think you’ve caught a glimpse of the elusive Jaguarndi, don’t be surprised – because your eyes may not be deceiving you!
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