How to Identify Feline Species by Fur

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Decide which spotted cat you’re looking at.,
Tell smaller wild cats apart from their larger counterparts and from each other.,
Note the subtle differences between the three common cat species that have tufted ears.

If you’re trying to work out which spotted great cat you’re observing in a movie, photo or artwork, there are some telltale signs to help you without resorting to a great cat expert, shown in the cat’s fur patterns. Big cats of the spotted variety will be one of either a cheetah, leopard or jaguar. Here is how to tell which of the three you’re looking at:

Cheetah: If it is slender, long-legged, and on open grassland, it must be a cheetah. The cheetah’s spots are simple black blots scattered over yellow fur. There are no elaborate patterns as in other spotted cats. You may also easily identify a cheetah from the tear-like stripes that run from its eyes, and down to its jaw. This stripe reduces the daytime glare, and lets the cheetah see better. Cheetah cubs look different from adults. In addition to spots, a cheetah cub has long, silvery hairs on its head, neck and all along its back.

Leopard: On a leopard’s fur, small spots form oval patterns that are called rosettes. They are called rosettes because these clusters of spots look like little flowers. A rosette is usually filled by darker, orange or brown fur. Rosettes occur on the sides of a leopard’s body, along its neck, chest, belly and back. Its head and legs are patterned in large, simple spots. Compare the pictures here to see how a leopard’s rosettes are smaller than those of a jaguar.

Jaguar: As the picture shows, a jaguar’s rosettes are much larger than a leopard’s. Jaguar rosettes are also squarish – shaped roughly like squares, pentagons or triangles. Leopard rosettes are circular or oval. Some rosettes on a jaguar’s fur have a tiny spot at their center. Leopard rosettes almost never have a spot within the circular patterns.

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, Smaller felines can be easy to tell apart from big cats, because they look more like domesticated cats. They have comparatively smaller heads, large ears and large eyes. Some spotted wild cats that are commonly filmed are the ocelot, margay and serval. In order to work out which one you’re looking at according to its pattern:

Ocelot: The ocelot is a wild cat commonly found across central America and South America. Its fur is distinctive, because it has rosettes that are so stretched that they look like stripes running along its body. These large stripe-shaped rosettes run from its neck to its belly, giving it a distinctive appearance.

Margay: The margay is a rare cat that lives in the rainforests of central America and South America. Its coat is a combination of large brown spots, and long, stripe-like rosettes. It has thick, black stripes running along its back , long rosettes on its shoulders and front legs, and round rosettes on its belly.

Clouded leopard: The clouded leopard is so called because its spots are large, cloud-like patterns, as the photo shows. Clouded leopards also have very large, muscular tails. The head of a clouded leopard is longer than that of most felines.

Serval: The serval is a long-legged feline with a short tail. They are easy to identify because of their spotted coats and short tails. A serval has large spots on much of its body, and a few stripes on its shoulders.

, These three cats are the lynx, bobcat and caracal. They each have short tails. Characteristics that distinguish these cats include:Caracal: This cat has long tufted ears and no markings on the fur.

Bobcat: This cat has short tufted ears and short facial ruffs, and a short tail. The markings on a bobcat tend to be spotted and streaked, and the markings are discrete. Bobcats have shorter legs than lynx.

Lynx: This cat has tufted ears, a facial ruff and mottled fur with a pale base. It has a short tail with a black tip. It has longer legs than the bobcat and large feet (for walking on snow). The characteristics on the lynx are more exaggerated than those on the bobcat.

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