The margay is a species of small wild cats that belong to the genus Leopardus of the family Felidae. Although it resembles its near relatives, the ocelots, the margay has a smaller body with a shorter head, larger eyes and paws, and a longer tail. The margay is also evidently more skillful in climbing trees than its relative. It is a genetically diverse species, and a study of their DNA samples has shown that three groups exist based on their geographic distribution. The three recognized subspecies of this feline species include L. w. wiedii, L. w. vigens, and L. w. glauculus.
Size: Its head-to-body length ranges from 48-79 cm (19-31 in), while its tail length is 33-51 cm (13-20 in), and shoulder height is approximately 30 cm (12 in).
Weight: It is relatively lighter than ocelots and weighs anywhere between 2.6 and 4 kg (5.7 and 8.8 lb).
Color: It has a brownish yellow or tan coat marked with rows of black or dark brown rosettes, along with streaks that run lengthwise along its body. The center of a rosette is paler than the rosette itself but darker than the color of its fur. Its chest, belly, chin, throat, and the inner areas of its legs are snowy white. Two dark stripes occur on each side of its face. Its tail has large dark rings, along with a black tip. Its black, rounded ears have a central white spot.
Body: Its body is covered in thick, plush fur. It has an incredibly long tail, measuring about 70% of its head-to-body length.
Eyes: The margay has enormous, dark brown eyes, which help it in nighttime vision.
The margay is distributed across southern Mexico, extending through Central America, and northern South America. The southern tip of its distribution range stretches till northern Argentina and Uruguay.
What Kind of Habitats do Margays live in
As compared to other American wild cats, the margay primarily occurs in forest habitat. It lives in tropical, subtropical evergreen, semi-deciduous, deciduous, and humid forests, as well as montane cloud forests. It is sometimes found in seasonally flooded forests, as well as cocoa, coffee, oil palm, and rubber plantations. Although the margay rarely lives at altitudes above 1,200 m, it has been spotted at the height of 3,000 m in the Andes.
The margay has a life expectancy of 12-14 years in the wild, but a captive specimen may live for more than 20 years.
This wild cat preys on small animals, including monkeys, big-eared climbing rats, opossums, squirrels, tree frogs, lizards, birds, and their eggs. The margay has also been reported to feed on fruits, grasses, and other vegetation. It also hunts terrestrial prey, including guinea pigs and cane rats.
The margay is primarily a nocturnal hunter, but it sometimes catches its prey during the day.
It spends most of the time roaming and hunting in trees. However, it moves on the ground, specifically when it travels from one hunting area to another.
It is a solitary animal, and its home ranges span across 11-16 sq km. It sprays urine or leaves scratch marks on tree branches or the ground to indicate its home territory.
It produces short-range vocalizations and has been reported to mimic the sound produced by a young pied tamarin while hunting.
Its long tail works as a counterweight, helping the margay to maintain its balance while climbing and moving on tree branches.
The margay has incredible ankle flexibility, which allows it to climb, jump, and chase monkeys and birds through the treetops. Since it can rotate its ankles up to 180 degrees, the margay can climb or run head-first down a tree.
It has remarkably strong and agile paws, which allow it to jump about 12 ft horizontally, and grasp or hang from branches using only one foot.
Mating and Reproduction
Females remain in heat for 4-10 days over an estrus cycle of 32-36 days, during which they make a moaning call to attract potential mating partners. Male margays respond by producing trilling sounds or yelping and quickly shaking their head from one side to the other. Copulation lasts for up to a minute, and it usually takes place in the trees. Mating may occur several times when the female is in estrus.
The gestation period in margays lasts for about 80 days, after which the mother gives birth to a single kitten (on rare occasions, two kittens) between the months of March and June. While the kitten fully opens its eyes at approximately two weeks after birth, it starts taking solid food at 7-8 weeks of age. It becomes sexually mature at 12-18 months of age.
What does the Margay Kitten look like
For a small wild cat species, the margay kittens are relatively large at birth. They weigh roughly 85-170 g and are born with their eyes closed.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the margays were illegally hunted for their fur, which caused a significant decline in their population. In recent times, loss of habitat due to deforestation, building infrastructure, and conversion of forests into pastures and agricultural lands are considered the main threats. In 2008, the IUCN Red List included the margay as a ‘Near Threatened’ species on their list.
Although margays are sometimes kept as exotic pets, the owner should have proof that the pet was legally obtained. In some states, it might be against the law to keep wild animals as pets.
Because of its dense pelt, the margay is called ‘gato-peludo’ (meaning furry cat) in northern Brazil.
The margay is sometimes preyed upon by jaguars and puma.