The Margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a spotted cat native to Central and South America. It is a solitary and nocturnal animal that prefers remote sections of the rainforest. Although it was once believed to be vulnerable to extinction, the IUCN now lists it as "Least Concern". It roams the rainforests from Mexico to Argentina.
Of all of the felines, the Margay is most adapted for a true arboreal life. It is the only cat to possess the ability to rotate its hind legs 180° , enabling it to run head first down trees like squirrels. It can also hang from a branch by one hind foot!
The Margay can weigh about 3 to 9 kg (6.6–20 lbs), have a body length of 45 to 80 cm (18 to 32 in) and a tail length of 33 to 51 cm (13 to 20 in). It is very similar to the larger Ocelot, although the head is a bit shorter, the tail and legs are longer, and the spotted pattern on the tail is different. Most notably the Margay is a much more skillful climber than its relative, and it is sometimes called the Tree Ocelot because of this skill. 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 with the ankle flexibility necessary to climb head first down trees (the other being the Clouded Leopard). 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 considerable distances. The Margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.
Because the Margay is naturally rare in its environment, most of its dietary studies were based on stomach contents and fecal analysis. This cat eats small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards and tree frogs. It may also eat grass and other vegetation, most likely to help digestion. A recent report about a Margay chasing squirrels in its natural environment confirmed that the Margay is able to hunt its prey entirely in trees.
Reproduction and Offspring
After a gestation of approximately 76-84 days, females produce a litter of 1 kittens. They weigh 2.75-6 ounces at birth and will open their eyes at around 2 weeks old. They are weaned around 2 months of age, and captive females reach sexual maturity around 6-10 months, although they may not reproduce for several months after that.
The biggest threat has been the exploitation of its pelt for the fur trade, which reached numbers of 14,000 per year. That number is believed to be greatly underestimated as it was seldom verified which spotted cat the pelts originated from. Sadly, in some areas, illegal hunting for domestic markets or underground fur trade still presents a problem for this little cat. Its greatest threat today, however, is deforestation of its natural habitat. Because of the Margay’s inability to produce large litters (or litters with multiple births!) combined with the fact that they only reproduce once every 2 years and the kitten mortality rate is 50%, their outlook for survival, both in the wild and in captivity, is grim.
These are the currently recognized subspecies:
- Leopardus wiedii wiedii, eastern and central Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina
- Leopardus wiedii amazonicus, western Brazil, inner parts of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela
- Leopardus wiedii boliviae, Bolivia
- Leopardus wiedii cooperi, northern Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii glauculus, central Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii nicaraguae, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
- Leopardus wiedii oaxacensis, southern Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii pirrensis, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Leopardus wiedii salvinius, Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador
- Leopardus wiedii yucatanicus, Yucatán
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- Genus: Leopardus
- Species: L. wiedii
- Leopardus wiedii: (Schinz, 1821)
- Felis wiedii
Margay range map