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Margay in Costa Rica.jpg
Margay in Costa Rica
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Leopardus
L. wiedii [2]
Binomial name
Leopardus wiedii [2]
(Schinz, 1821)
Margay distribution.jpg
Distribution of the Margay, 2015 [1]
  • Felis wiedii

The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small wild cat native to Central and South America. A solitary and nocturnal cat, [3] it lives mainly in primary evergreen and deciduous forest. [4]


Until the 1990s, margays were hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which resulted in a large population decrease. [5] Since 2008, the margay has been listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List because the population is thought to be declining due to loss of habitat following deforestation. [1]

In his first description, Schinz named the margay Felis wiedii in honour of Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied who collected specimens in Brazil. [6]


A margay at Parc des Felins in France Margay.jpg
A margay at Parc des Félins in France

The margay is very similar to the larger ocelot in appearance, although the head is a little shorter, the eyes larger, and the tail and legs longer. It weighs from 2.6 to 4 kg (5.7 to 8.8 lb), with a body length of 48 to 79 cm (19 to 31 in), and a tail length of 33 to 51 cm (13 to 20 in). Unlike most other cats, the female possesses only two teats. [7]

Its fur is brown and marked with numerous rows of dark brown or black rosettes and longitudinal streaks. The undersides are paler, ranging from buff to white, and the tail has numerous dark bands and a black tip. The backs of the ears are black with circular white markings in the centre. [7]

Most notably the margay is a much more skillful climber than its relative, and it is sometimes called the tree ocelot because of this ability. Whereas the ocelot mostly pursues prey on the ground, the margay may spend its entire life in the trees, leaping after and chasing birds and monkeys through the treetops. Indeed, it is one of only two cat species [7] with the ankle flexibility necessary to climb head-first down trees (the other being the clouded leopard, although the poorly studied marbled cat may also have this ability). It is remarkably agile; its ankles can turn up to 180 degrees, it can grasp branches equally well with its fore and hind paws, and it is able to jump up to 12 ft (3.7 m) horizontally. [7] The margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.[ citation needed ]

Distribution and habitat

The margay is distributed from the tropical lowlands in Mexico through Central America to Brazil and Paraguay. [1] In Mexico it has been recorded in 24 of the 32 states, ranging northward up the coastal lowlands and Sierra Madres as far north as the US border states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas in the east and southern Sonora in the west. [8] The southern edge of its range reaches Uruguay and northern Argentina. It inhabits almost exclusively dense forests, ranging from tropical evergreen forest to tropical dry forest and high cloud forest. Margays have sometimes also been observed in coffee and cocoa plantations. [7]

The only record from the USA was collected sometime before 1852 near Eagle Pass, Maverick County, Texas and it is currently considered extinct in Texas. [9] [10] Fossil remains of margays have been collected in Pleistocene deposits in Orange County, Texas along the Sabine River and it is believed to have ranged over considerable portions of southern Texas at one time. [9]

Fossil evidence of margays or margay-like cats has been found in Florida and Georgia dating to the Pleistocene, suggesting that they had an even wider distribution in the past.[ citation needed ]

Behavior and ecology

Margay Margaykat Leopardus wiedii.jpg

The margay is nocturnal, but has also been observed hunting during the day in some areas. It prefers to spend most of its life in trees, but also travels on the ground, especially when moving between hunting areas. During the day, it rests in relatively inaccessible branches or clumps of lianas.[ citation needed ]

It is usually solitary and lives in home ranges of 11–16 km2 (4.2–6.2 sq mi). It uses scent marking to indicate its territory, including urine spraying and leaving scratch marks on the ground or on branches. Its vocalisations all appear to be short range; it does not call over long distances. [7]

A margay has been observed to mimic the vocalisation of a pied tamarin (Saguinus bicolor) infant while hunting. This represents the first observation of a Neotropical predator employing this type of mimicry. [11]


Margay in Parque Municipal Summit, Panama Margay (Leopardus wiedii).jpg
Margay in Parque Municipal Summit, Panama

Because the margay is mostly nocturnal and is naturally rare in its environment, most dietary studies have been based on stomach contents and faecal analysis. This cat hunts small mammals, including monkeys, and birds, eggs, lizards and tree frogs. [12] It also eats grass, fruit and other vegetation, most likely to help digestion. A 2006 report about a margay chasing squirrels in its natural environment confirmed that the margay is able to hunt its prey entirely in trees. [13] However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as cane rats and guinea pigs. [7]

Reproduction and lifecycle

Female margays are in estrus for four to ten days over a cycle of 32 to 36 days, during which they attract males with a long, moaning call. The male responds by yelping or making trilling sounds, and also by rapidly shaking his head from side to side, a behavior not seen in any other cat species. Copulation lasts up to sixty seconds, and is similar to that in domestic cats; it takes place primarily in the trees, and occurs several times while the female is in heat. [7] Unlike other felid species, margays are not induced ovulators. [14]

Gestation lasts about 80 days, and generally results in the birth of a single kitten (very rarely, there are two) usually between March and June. Kittens weigh 85 to 170 g (3.0 to 6.0 oz) at birth. This is relatively large for a small cat, and is probably related to the long gestation period. The kittens open their eyes at around two weeks of age, and begin to take solid food at seven to eight weeks. Margays reach sexual maturity at twelve to eighteen months of age, and have been reported to live more than 20 years in captivity. [7]

Cubs suffer from a 50% mortality rate. Coupled with the problems they have breeding in captivity, this makes the prospect of increasing the population very difficult.


Tika, a nine month old female margay, on the grounds of the Arenal Volcano Observatory, Costa Rica Tika2009Jan24.jpg
Tika, a nine month old female margay, on the grounds of the Arenal Volcano Observatory, Costa Rica

Felis wiedii was the scientific name proposed by Heinrich Rudolf Schinz in 1821 for a zoological specimen from Brazil. [6] Felis macroura was proposed by Maximilian von Wied in 1825 who described margays that he obtained in the jungles along the Mucuri River in Brazil. [15] In the 20th century, several type specimens were described and proposed as new species or subspecies:

Results of a genetic study of margay mitochondrial DNA samples indicate that three phylogeographic groups exist. [22] Therefore, three subspecies are currently considered valid taxa: [23]

Local names

In the Spanish language it is known as gato tigre, tigrillo, caucel, maracayá or margay. In Portuguese it is called gato-maracajá or simply maracajá. In the Guaraní language, the term mbarakaya originally referred only to the margay, but is now also used for domestic cats.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

Felidae Family of mammals

Felidae is a family of mammals in the order Carnivora, colloquially referred to as cats, and constitutes a clade. A member of this family is also called a felid. The term "cat" refers both to felids in general and specifically to the domestic cat.

Ocelot Small wild cat

The ocelot is a small wild cat native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. This medium-sized cat is characterized by solid black spots and streaks on its coat, round ears, and white neck and undersides. It weighs between 8 and 15.5 kg and reaches 40–50 cm at the shoulders. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Two subspecies are recognized: L. p. pardalis and L. p. mitis.


Neofelis is a genus comprising two extant cat species from Southeast Asia: the clouded leopard of mainland Asia, and the Sunda clouded leopard of Sumatra and Borneo.

Wildcat Small wild cat

The wildcat is a species complex comprising two small wild cat species, the European wildcat and the African wildcat. The European wildcat inhabits forests in Europe and the Caucasus, while the African wildcat inhabits semi-arid landscapes and steppes in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, into western India and western China. The wildcat species differ in fur pattern, tail, and size: the European wildcat has long fur and a bushy tail with a rounded tip; the smaller African wildcat is more faintly striped, has short sandy-gray fur and a tapering tail; the Asiatic wildcat is spotted.

Jungle cat Medium-sized wild cat

The jungle cat, also called reed cat and swamp cat, is a medium-sized cat native to the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and southern China. It inhabits foremost wetlands like swamps, littoral and riparian areas with dense vegetation. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, and is mainly threatened by destruction of wetlands, trapping and poisoning.

African golden cat Small wild cat

The African golden cat is a wild cat endemic to the rainforests of West and Central Africa. It is threatened due to deforestation and bushmeat hunting and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval. Previously, it was placed in the genus Profelis. Its body size ranges from 61 to 101 cm with a 16 to 46 cm long tail.

Oncilla Small wild cat

The oncilla, also known as the northern tiger cat, little spotted cat, and tigrillo, is a small spotted cat ranging from Central America to central Brazil. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because the population is threatened by deforestation and conversion of habitat to agricultural land.

Jaguarundi Small wild cat

The jaguarundi is a wild cat native to the Americas. Its range extends from central Argentina in the south to the US–Mexico border in the north, through Central and South America east of the Andes. The jaguarundi is a medium-sized cat of slender build. Its coloration is uniform, similar to that of its closest relative, the much larger cougar, but differing significantly from other neotropical cats. It has an elongated body with relatively short legs, a small, narrow head, small, round ears, a short snout and a long tail, resembling otters and weasels in these respects. It is around twice as large as the domestic cat, reaching nearly 36 cm (14 in) at the shoulder and weighs 3.5–7 kg (7.7–15.4 lb). It has two color morphs — gray and red.

Kodkod Small wild cat

The kodkod, also called güiña, is the smallest cat in the Americas. It lives primarily in central and southern Chile and marginally in adjoining areas of Argentina. Its area of distribution is small compared to the other South American cats. Since 2002, it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as the total effective population may comprise less than 10,000 mature individuals, and is threatened due to persecution and loss of habitat and prey base.


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Geoffroys cat Small wild cat

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Felid hybrid

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African leopard Leopard subspecies

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African wildcat Small wild cat

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Pampas cat Small wild cat

The Pampas cat is a small wild cat native to South America. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List as habitat conversion and destruction may cause the population to decline in the future.

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<i>Sciurus ingrami</i> species of mammal

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<i>Leopardus guttulus</i> Small wild cat

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