Cats belonging to the genus Leopardus are believed to be the oldest branch of the part of the cat family t0 cross into the Americas. They are small spotted cats most of which are native to Middle and South America. Of these very few range into the southern United States. After Leopardus, cats belonging to Lynx and Puma genera came to Americas. Most of the species classified under Leopardus resemble housecats in size. Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is the largest species in the genus while Kodkod (L. guigna) is the smallest cat in the Americas. The Margay (L.wiedii), found in the rainforests from Mexico to Argentina, is highly adapted to tree life than any other cat in the Americas.
Leopardus was earlier considered a subgenus of the genus Felis and the Pantanal cat (Leopardus braccatus) and the Pampas Cat (Leopardus pajeros) were regarded as the subspecies of the Colocolo. Later genetic studies revealed that the Leopardus genus forms a separate clade within the feline subfamily, and first evolved in South America around ten to twelve million years ago.
Within the genus, there seem to be two different evolutionary lineages; one leading to the Andean Mountain Cat, Margay and Ocelot while the other leading to the remaining species.
- Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita)
- Margay (Leopardus wiedii)
- Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
- Pantanal cat (Leopardus braccatus)
- Colocolo (Leopardus colocolo)
- Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi)
- Kodkod (Leopardus guigna)
- Southern tigrina (Leopardus guttulus )
- Pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros)
- Oncilla or Tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus)