New Cat Species 'Little Tiger Cat' Found in Brazilian Rainforest Shocks Researchers

A new species of "tiger cat" was discovered in Brazil much to the surprise of researchers, who did not expect to find a new species of cat on the continent.

Oncillas are roughly the size of domesticated housecats and are found in most of the countries in south America.

Oncillas, also known as little tiger cats, are not all the same and new research suggests that little tiger cats in northeastern Brazil belong to a different species than oncillas found in other regions of the continent.

Researchers analyzed the genetic material of oncillas in northeastern Brazil and compared them with nearby populations in the southern regions of the country and found they were different.

The results were published in a study found in the journal Current Biology and revealed that genes found in both species have been isolated for thousands of years.

The findings led researchers to conclude that the two populations have not interbred, which would mean that the two are completely different species, according to study co-author Eduardo Eizirik, a researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

"[The study] illustrates how much is still unknown about the natural world, even in groups that are supposed to be well-characterized, such as cats," Eizirik told LiveScience. "In fact, there are many basic aspects that we still don't know about wild cats, from their precise geographic distribution and their diets to even species-level delimitation, as in this case."

"Since this population of oncillas is a unique new species, there is an urgent need to learn more about it and its rarity; for example, whether or not it may need protection under conservation laws," Eizirik added.

Researchers will give the species in the south a new name, Leopardus guttulus, while the species found in the northeast will be documented as Leopardus tigrina.