The new species was identified after scientists analyzed the DNA of several different wildcat populations, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Brazilian scientists studied several different populations of distinct wild cats: the pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo,) Geoffroy's cat (L. geoffroyi) and the tigrina (L. tigrinus), a roughly house-cat-sized feline.
The genetic study showed that while northern tigrinas had interbred with pampas cats, and southern tigrinas had done so with Geoffroy's cats, the southern and northern tigrinas were not interbreeding with each other.
"L. tigrinus was clearly subdivided into two genetically distinct populations," the researchers reported, noting the two populations looked far more different on a genetic level than their similar appearance would suggest.
The two tigrinas populations were really two different species, the researchers concluded, possibly suited to different environments, with northern tigrinas living mostly in savannahs and other relatively dry spots while their southern cousins live in denser, wetter forests.
The rarer northern species would remain Leopardus tigrinus, the researchers said, while the more common tigrina in the south has been renamed Leopardus guttulus.
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