Similarly to an ancestor, balam has long body and rather short legs: the animal can not pursue catch on big distance and prefers to hunt from an ambush. But the balam size is equal to the size of leopard: length of a body is 150 cm (the height at a shoulder is about 50 cm, waist is higher than shoulders), length of a tail is about 1 meter. Coloring of a wool is dark-brown, but each hair at the basis is darker, and on a tip is lighter. Sometimes on the body of adult animal the pattern of separate spots merging to longitudinal strips is seen. At males the pattern is seen more up, than at females; besides the male is much larger than the female. Tips of paws and lips are white, above every eye there is vertical white strip. The throat and stomach are colored lighter than the back.
Prefers to live in a cross-country terrain, with thickets of bushes, reservoirs (animal swims well), trees (it dexterously clambers on, frequently organizing ambush on tree) and thickets of high grass. Balam hunts small and medium-sized vertebrates, also fishes and turtles. This cat usually keeps by family group: male, female and their kittens.
In pack there are 3 - 4 kittens. They have no expressed spots on wool, paws and lips are dark. Kittens spend the first month of life in shelter: tree-trunk hollow, crevice in rocks, thickets of bushes. They start to accompany with parents in hunting, remaining with them almost before birth of the following pack. If their mother had not become pregnant, cubs can remain in family up to one and half years.