It was long considered to be a subspecies of the oncilla, but was recognized as a distinct species in 2013. It is closely related to Geoffroy's cat, with which it reportedly interbreeds in southern Brazil.
The small neotropical cat has a yellowish-ocre coat patterned with open black rosettes. Physically, the southern tigrina can be distinguished from the oncilla by its slightly darker background coloring, larger rosette pattern, and slightly shorter tail. However, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the two species by appearance alone, since more genetic variation tends to occur within each species than between the two species. An adult southern tigrina weighs anywhere between 1.9 and 2.4 kg (4.2 and 5.3 lb).
The southern tigrina occurs from central to southern Brazil in Minas Gerais and Goiás states, in the Atlantic forest, eastern Paraguay and northeastern Argentina below elevations of 2,000 m (6,600 ft). The population is roughly estimated to comprise around 6,000 mature individuals. It inhabits dense tropical and subtropical rainforests, deciduous and mixed pine forests, open savannahs, and beach vegetation.
At the margins of its range, the southern tigrina interbreeds with Geoffroy’s cats, L. geoffroyi, but it does not appear to interbreed with the oncilla population in northeastern Brazil, which in contrast has a history of interbreeding with L. colocolo. Because of habitat differentiation, interbreeding does not occur between oncilla and southern tigrina. In contrast, hybridization and introgression occurs between southern tigrina and Geoffroy’s cat at their contact zone in southern Brazil. Many southern tigrinas and Geoffrey’s cats are thought to be partial hybrids, because of the high level of interbreeding that is occurring.