Featured unsplash image

Spotted Cats

By Elizabeth Schleichert

Who knew the world’s wild cats could have so many different kinds of spots? Here you see four of their coats up close. Can you guess which one belongs to which cat? (Hint: All these cats appear in this article.)
And can you find the spotted cats above right–and name them?


spread 1 spotted cats


(See answers at the very end of the story.)

Believe it or not, of the nearly 40 species of wild cats, almost half are spotted. Spots help a cat blend in with splotches of shade and sunlight–making it harder to spot! And that helps when avoiding trouble or sneaking up on prey. To see more fantastic felines, pounce onto the next photos!


spread 2 spotted cats


Cats of the America
Jaguar (above, left)
Home Base: Forests, swamps, dry shrublands of Mexico and of South and Central America.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Super-Sized. Largest cat in the Americasand third largest in the world, behind the tiger of Asia and the lion of Africa.
  • Wet and Wild! Likes water; strong swimmer.
  • Big Eater! Preys on more than 80 kinds of animals, including snakes, deer, and monkeys.

Margay (above, middle)

Home Base: Tropical forests of Mexico and of Central and South America.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • At Home Up High. Often hunts and sleeps in the trees.
  • Gymnast. Leaps from branch to branch, using long tail for balance. Can hang from a branch by only one foot and sneak headfirst down a tree trunk.
  • Sly. Lures its prey, adult monkeys, by mimicking the cries of baby monkeys.

Ocelot (above, right)
Home Base: Dense shrublands, swamps, and forests of southern Texas, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Copycat? Looks a lot like its cousin, the margay, but larger.
  • All-Around Athlete. Great climber and swimmer, but not as graceful high up as the margay.
  • In Trouble. Its numbers in the wild are dropping. Usually, each female has just one baby every year or two—a low rate for a cat this size.


spread 3spotted cats


Cats of Africa
Cheetah (above, top left)
Home Base: Grasslands and scrublands of Africa. Small numbers of cheetahs also live in central Asia.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Speed Champ! Fastest land animal, reaching speeds of 60 miles an hour or more.
  • Zigzagger. Long tail and cleat-like ridges on feet are great for making quick turns while chasing prey.
  • Chatty. Purrs loudly when content. “Talks” with bird-like chirps.

Leopard (above, lower left)
Home Base: Many different habitats in Africa. Some leopards also live in the Middle East, India, and Asia.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Top-Notch Stasher. Puts its dead prey up high where lions, tigers, and hyenas can’t get to it.
  • Strong! Hauls prey heavier than itself up into trees.
  • Graceful. Can race down tree trunks headfirst. In one bound, can cover 20 feet (the length of a large car).

Serval (above, right)
Home Base: Along waterways in grasslands and forests.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Leggy. Long legs are perfect for moving through tall grasses.
  • Good Listener. Big ears pick up the tiniest squeaks of hidden mice and pinpoint the prey’s exact location.
  • Paw-some. Leaps up into air, claps front paws together, and brings down birds in mid-flight.


spread 4 spotted cats


Cats of Asia

Snow Leopard (above, top left)
Home Base: High mountains, mostly in China and central Asia.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Splotchy. Spotty, splotchy gray coat helps it hide among rocks.
  • Dressed for Success. Long outer fur and thick undercoat keep it warm in the cold.
  • Wrapped-Up. Extra-furry, long tail that wraps around like a scarf when leopard is lying down or sitting.


Clouded Leopard (above, lower left)
Home Base: Mostly tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Cloudy Coated. Named for its coat’s cloud-like markings, which often include spots.
  • All-Around Hunter. Hunts birds and monkeys in trees. Nabs deer, wild boar, and other mammals down below.
  • Toothy. Can kill prey with a single bite. Has sharp, two-inch-long canine teeth—as big as a tiger’s. (But the tiger is 10 times larger than this cat!)
  • Mysterious. Very secretive, so little is known about it.

Fishing Cat (above, right)
Home Base: Wetlands from India to Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
Cool Cat Facts:

  • Trickster. Eats lots of fish (see above, right small photo). Attracts them by tapping the water’s surface with a paw, imitating an insect’s movements.
  • Fearsome Diver! Dives into water to grab frogs and ducks.
  • Water Wonder. One of the best swimmers in the cat world, steering with its tail.


Answers from Top Photo:


  • (top left):jaguar
  • (bottom left): clouded leopard
  • (top right): cheetah
  • bottom right): leopard

Spotted Cats:

  • (top): snow leopard
  • (bottom): cheetah



  “Spotted Cats” originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

  • More Animal Stories