The weather is nice in North Florida at last, and it feels like Fall is here. My bike partner and I ventured out in the early afternoon this week to sneak in a quick mountain bike ride in a nearby Greenway. The air was the perfect temperature, although the ground was very dry – lots of sandy patches hiding under leaves. Mountain biking on leaves can be tricky, as you are not sure what is underneath, like sand, holes, and roots, and it takes more concentration than usual. We were finishing up and heading home while winding our way down a two-track trail near a dry swampy lake, when up ahead we saw a cat.
We both saw it at the same time, and then lost track as he wound around the next bend in the trail. We were looking at its backside slinking down the middle of the trail. Around the next bend we caught sight again. My bike partner at first thought it was a bobcat, but we then realized it couldn’t be because a bobcat has a short bobbed tail, and this cat on the trail had a very long tail, reaching the ground and curling back up. My first thought was that it looked like my tabby cat! Then I realized it was much bigger than my 8 pound house cat.
Around the next bend we got a pretty good view as the cat turned perpendicular to the trail and darted into the bushes. I had no chance to get a picture of him unless I had my helmet cam running, and of course I didn’t. Wildlife know when I have a camera ready and they take cover!
From the side view, the cat was at least 2 feet tall, and was a greyish color with a little bit of a pattern, like a camouflage. I think that was what made me think of my tabby cat. Unfortunately, we did not get a good view of its head, because that would have helped us identify the cat.
After we got home, I started searching the internet and called a biologist. After reviewing the species of cats that can be found in North Florida, it appears we might have seen a Jaguarundi. There are many references to sightings all over Florida, especially from Central Florida to North Florida, although there are also many sources saying that are not in this area.
The jaguarundi are from Central and South America, and have been found in Mexico, Texas, and all the way into Florida. There are stories that they were introduced in Florida from a population from Belize.
These mammals are primarily diurnal, meaning they are more active during the day, unlike many cats which are nocturnal. They eat rodents, reptiles and birds, as well as larger prey such as rabbits and opossums. Fortunately for us, they do not eat humans!
Jaguarundis make many different vocalizations, like chirps, chatters, yips, whistles and purring sounds to name a few. They are 21 to 30 inches in length, not including their tail that can be 12 to 24 inches; they weigh between 8 and 20 pounds. They have a distinctive weasel or otter-shaped head, which is why it would have been great to get a view of the head.
We saw the cat about 1:40 p.m., so it fits with their typical behavior of being active during the day, and we did not pass anyone on the trails that day, except for the cat, so it had miles of trails to itself. The area in which we saw the cat was full of lots of scrubby underbrush and there were trees on either side of the trail – for miles.
We will probably never know what we saw, but it was a really cool cat!