Mammal Species of the World
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- Original description: Schinz, H.R., 1821. Das Thierreich eingetheilt nach dem Bau der Thiere als Grundlage ihrer Naturgeschichte und der vergleichenden Anatomie von dem Herrn Ritter von Cuvier, p. 235. Erster Band, Saugethiere und Vogel. Stuttgart, Germany, 894 + 38.
Leopardus wiedii is neotropical and sub-tropical. Margays may be found in forested regions from Northern Mexico to Uruguay and northern Argentina.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: John's Hopkins University Press.
- de Oliveira, T. 1998. Leopardus wiedii. Mammalian Species, 579: 1-6.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Extreme southern tip of Texas (formerly) south through Mexico and Central America to South America (south to Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina). Very rare in Central America (Kitchener 1991). Texas population may have disappeared over a century ago.
U.S.A. (TX), Central and South America
Margays are petite, spotted cats, resembling small, slender ocelots (Leopardus pardalis). Head and body length range from 463 to 790 mm, with tail length 331 to 510 mm. Weight 2.6 to 3.9 kg. Dark brown spots form longitudinal rows; fur otherwise tan (range: grayish to cinnamon) above, white ventrally. The pelage of these cats is soft and thick.
Range mass: 2.6 to 3.9 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 5.227 W.
- Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 1999. Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 3: the central Neotropics. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Length: 180 cm
Weight: 3200 grams
Size in North America
Average: 931 mm males; 907 mm females
Range: 862-1,300 mm males; 805-1,029 mm females
Range: 3-7 kg males; 3-5 kg females
Sonoran-Sinaloan Transition Subtropical Dry Forest Habitat
This taxon is found in the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest ecoregion, which comprises a distinct zone of dry forest that forms a north-south transition between the Sonoran Desert to the north and the Sinaloan dry forests to the south. There is a generally low faunal endemism and faunal species richnesss; for example, only 310 vertebrates species are found in the ecoregion, with a notable lack of amphibians and reptiles present. Characteristically tropical species include the magnificent Black-throated Magpie Jay (Calocitta colliei). On the other hand, many more typically northern desert species are also found here, including Jumping Cholla cactus (Opuntia fulgida) and Fish-hook Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wisliznei).
Bio-climatically, the ecoregion is classified as a dry steppe life-zone, in contrast to the more humid seasonal forests to the south, and arid deserts to the north. Like neighboring regions, rainfall predominates in the summers. Annual rainfall is approximately 10-20 cm. Because of its proximity to the coast, fluctuations in annual temperatures are only on the order of 10-15° C (difference between median monthly high and low temperature). Frost and temperatures below freezing are rare, in contrast to the Sonoran Desert, to the north. Unlike the distinctly xeric desert vegetation to the north, and the tropical deciduous forest to the south, the vegetation of the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition dry forest is dominated by a deciduous thorn forest or selva espinosa. Pockets of semiarid mattoral as well as thorn scrub are also present.
Dominant trees in this forest include many species from the families Acaciaceae, Burseraceae and Leguminosae. Cacti, such as Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), are often conspicuous and abundant. Overall, this dry forest is less pronounced and more seasonal than its southern cousin, particularly as one moves north to the margins of the Sonoran Desert. Common and characteristic plants include several acacias: Boat-thorned Acacia (Acacia cochliacantha); and Sonoran Tree Catclaw or Tésota (Acacia occidentalis). The former, a shrub, or small tree, is the only local acacia with boat-shaped thorns. The latter acacia flowers prolifically in March, perfuming the air so heavily that it can often be sensed by scent before it is seen. Another common species in the thorn forest is Torote Prieto (Bursera fragilis).
A number of mammalian taxa are found in this arid ecoregion, among them the following special status taxa; Margay (Leopardus wiedii NT); Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus mexicanus NT); Mexican Long-tongued Bat (Choeronycteris mexicana NT); and the Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae VU).
Although precise figures are not available, this region also supports a number of endemic and rare plants, including the arborescent morning glory or palo santo (Ipomea arborescens). This species flowers in the dry season, thus providing pollen to nectar-feeding long-tongued bats (Choeronycteris mexicana and Glossophaga soricina) – amongst the most important pollinators of the Sonoran region – at a time when few other plants are in flower.
- World Wildlife Fund & C. Michael Hogan. 2013."Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed. Rhonda Lorraine Millikin
- G. Ceballos and A. García. 1995. Conserving neotropical diversity: The role of dry forests in Western Mexico. Conservation Biology 9:6 (1349-1356).
Belizean Pine Forests Habitat
This species is found in the Belizean pine forests along the Central America's northwestern Caribbean Sea coast; the ecoregion exhibits relatively well preserved fragments of vegetation as well as a considerable abundance of fauna. This ecoregion comprises a geographically small portion of the total land area of the ecoregions of Belize. There is relatively low endemism in the Belizean pine forests, and only a moderate species richness here; for example, only 447 vertebrate taxa have been recorded in the ecoregion. The ecoregion represents one of the few examples of lowland and premontane pine forests in the Neotropics, where the dominant tree species is Honduran Pine (Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis), which requires periodic low intensity burns for its regeneration. The vegetation is adapted to the xeric, acidic and nutrient-poor conditions that occur primarily in the dry season.
In the forest of the Maya Mountains, vegetation reaches higher altitudes, the topography is more rugged and crossed by various rivers, and nighttime temperatures are lower. The pine trees are larger and numerous, and the pine forest intersects other formations of interest such as rainforest, Cohune Palm (corozal), cactus associations, and others. About eleven percent of Belize is covered by natural pine vegetation. Only two percent represents totally closed forests; three percent semi-closed forests; and the remaining six percent pine savannas, that occupy coastal areas and contain isolated pine trees or stands of pine trees separated by extensive pastures. In addition to human activity, edaphic factors are a determining matter in this distribution, since the forests on the northern plain and southern coastal zone are on sandy soils or sandy-clay soils and usually have less drainage than the more fertile soils in the center of the country.
At elevations of 650 to 700 metres, the forests transition to premontane in terms of vegetation. At these higher levels, representative tree species are Egg-cone Pine (Pinus oocarpa), which crosses with Honduras Pine (P. hondurensis), where distributions overlap, although belonging to subsections of different genera; British Honduras Yellowwood (Podocarpus guatemalensis) and Quercus spp.; moreover, and in even more moist areas there is a predominance of Jelecote Pine (Pinus patula), together with the palm Euterpe precatoria var. longivaginata and the arboreal ferns Cyathea myosuroides and Hemitelia multiflora.
A number of reptilian species are found in the Belizean pine forests, including: Guatemala Neckband Snake (Scaphiodontophis annulatus); Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais); On the coasts, interior lakes and rivers of Belize and by extension in this ecoregion there are two species of threatened crocodiles: American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and Morelet's Crocodile (C. moreletii), while observation of the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii CR) is not uncommon in this ecoregion.
Also to be noted is the use of this habitat by the Mexican Black Howler (Alouatta pigra), which can be considered the most endangered howler monkey of the genus, and the Central American spider monkey (Atteles geoffroyi). Both species experienced a decline due to the epidemic yellow fever that swept the country in the 1950s. The five feline species that exist in Belize: Jaguar (Panthera onca), Puma (F. concolor), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), Margay (Leopardus wiedii) and Jaguarundí (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) are in appendix I of CITES, as well as the Central American tapir (Tapirus bairdii) can been seen with relative frequency. Belize has the highest density of felines in Central America. The tapir is abundant around rivers. The White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari) is also present in the ecoregion.
Although most of the amphibians and reptiles are found in humid premontane and lowland forests, the only endemic frog in this ecoregion, Maya Mountains Frog (Lithobates juliani), is restricted to the Mountain Pine Ridge in the Maya Mountains. Salamanders in the ecoregion are represented by the Alta Verapaz Salamander (Bolitoglossa dofleini NT), whose males are arboreal, while females live under logs. Anuran taxa found in the ecoregion include: Rio Grande Frog (Lithobates berlandieri); Sabinal Frog (Leptodactylus melanonotus); Northern Sheep Frog (Hypopachus variolosus); Stauffer's Long-nosed Treefrog (Scinax staufferi); and Tungara Treefrog (Engystomops pustulosus).
Present in the ecoregion are a number of avian species, including the endangered Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot (Amazona oratrix EN), although this bird is adversely affected by ongoing habitat destruction. Of particular interest is the presence in this ecoregion of Central America's highest procreative colony of Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), a large migratory bird, particularly in the Crooked Tree sanctuary, on the country's northern plains.
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013."Belizean pine forests". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- E. Dinerstein, D.M. Olson, et al. 1995. A Conservation Assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank in association with WWF, Washington, D.C. ISBN: 0821332961
Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean Mangroves Habitat
This taxon is found in the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion, but not necessarily exclusive to this region.The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves occupy a long expanse of disjunctive coastal zone along the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for portions of Central America and Mexico. The ecoregion has a very high biodiversity and species richness of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. As with most mangrove systmems, the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean ecoregion plays an important role in shoreline erosion prevention from Atlantic hurricanes and storms; in addition these mangroves are significant in their function as a nursery for coastal fishes, turtles and other marine organisms.
This disjunctive Neotropical ecoregion is comprised of elements lying along the Gulf of Mexico coastline of Mexico south of the Tampico area, and along the Caribbean Sea exposures of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.There are 507 distinct vertebrate species that have been recorded in the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion.
Chief mangrove tree species found in the central portion of the ecoregion (e.g. Belize) are White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), and Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans); Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) is a related tree associate. Red mangrove tends to occupy the more seaward niches, while Black mangrove tends to dominate the more upland niches. Other plant associates occurring in this central part of the ecoregion are Swamp Caway (Pterocarpus officinalis), Provision Tree (Pachira auatica) and Marsh Fern (Acrostichum aureum).
The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion has a number of mammalian species, including: Mexican Agouti (Dasyprocta mexicana, CR); Mexican Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra, EN); Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii, EN); Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi, EN); Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla); Deppe's Squirrel (Sciurus deppei), who ranges from Tamaulipas, Mexico to the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica; Jaguar (Panthera onca, NT), which requires a large home range and hence would typically move between the mangroves and more upland moist forests; Margay (Leopardus wiedii, NT); Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata); Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus mexicanus, NT), a species found in the mangroves, but who mostly roosts in higher elevation caves; Central American Cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti).
A number of reptiles have been recorded within the ecoregion including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, EN); Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, CR); Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii, CR), distributed along the Atlantic drainages of southern Mexico to Guatemala; Morelets Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii, LR/CD), a crocodile found along the mangroves of Yucatan, Belize and the Atlantic versant of Guatemala.
Some of the other reptiles found in this ecoregion are the Adorned Graceful Brown Snake (Rhadinaea decorata); Allen's Coral Snake (Micrurus alleni); Eyelash Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis schlegelii); False Fer-de-lance (Xenodon rabdocephalus); Blood Snake (Stenorrhina freminvillei); Bridled Anole (Anolis frenatus); Chocolate Anole (Anolis chocorum), found in Panamanian and Colombian lowland and mangrove subcoastal forests; Furrowed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys areolata. NT); Brown Wood Turtle (LR/NT); Belize Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus insularis), which occurs only in this ecoregion along with the Peten-Veracruz moist forests.
Salamanders found in this ecoregion are: Cukra Climbing Salamander (Bolitoglossa striatula); Rufescent Salamander (Bolitoglossa rufescens); Alta Verapaz Salamander (Bolitoglossa dofleini, NT), the largest tropical lungless salamander, whose coastal range spans Honduras, Guatemala and the Cayo District of Belize; Colombian Worm Salamander (Oedipina parvipes), which occurs from central Panama to Colombia; La Loma Salamander (Bolitoglossa colonnea), a limited range taxon occurring only in portions of Costa Rica and Panama;.Central American Worm Salamander (Oedipina elongata), who inhabits very moist habitats; Cienega Colorado Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis, NT), a limited range taxon found only in parts of Costa Rica and Panama, including higher elevation forests than the mangroves; Limon Worm Salamander (Oedipina alfaroi, VU), a restricted range caecilian found only on the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica and extreme northwest Panama. Caecilians found in the ecoregion are represented by: La Loma Caecilian (Dermophis parviceps), an organism found in the Atlantic versant of Panama and Costa Rica up to elevation 1200 metres
- C.Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013. "Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves".. Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Peter Saundry
- William G. D'Arcy, D. Mireya and A. Correa. 1985. The Botany and Natural History of Panama, Universidad de Panamá. , 455 pages
Panamanian Dry Forests Habitat
This taxon is found in the Panamanian dry forests, but not necessarily limited to this ecoregion. The Panamanian dry forests ecoregion occupies approximately 2000 square miles of coastal and near-coastal areas on the Pacific versant of Panama, around portions of the Gulf of Panama. Plant endemism is intermediate, and vertebrate species richness is quite high in the Panamanian dry forests.This key ecoregion is highly threatened from its extensive ongoing exploitation. Beyond the endemism and species richness, the ecoregion is further significant, since it offers a biological corridor from the moist forests to the coastal mangroves.
Plant endemism is intermediate in value within the Panamanian dry forests, likely elevated due to the (a) isolation of this ecoregion from the surrounding and intervening moist forest habitat; (b) arid conditions which likely enhanced speciation and hence species richness; and (c) absence of prehistoric glaciation, which has extinguished many species in more extreme latitudes.
Many of the plants are well adapted to herbivory defense through such morphologies as spiny exteriors and other features. Forest canopies are typically less than twenty meters, with a few of the highest species exceeding that benchmark. Caesalpinia coriaria is a dominant tree in the Azuero Peninsula portion of the dry forests, while Lozania pittieri is a dominant tree in the forests near Panama City. The vegetative palette is well adapted to the dry season, where water is a precious commodity.
Faunal species richness is high in the Panamanian dry forests, as in much of Mesoamerica, with a total of 519 recorded vertebrates alone within the Panamanian dry forests. Special status reptiles in the Panamanian dry forests include the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Brown Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Common Caiman (Caiman crocodilus), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Common Slider (Trachemys scripta), and the Critically Endangered Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). There are two special status amphibian in the ecoregion: the Critically endangered plantation Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium colymbiphyllum) and the Vulnerable Camron mushroom-tongued salamander (Bolitoglossa lignicolor).
Threatened mammals found in the Panamanian dry forests include the: Endangered Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), the Vulnerable Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the Near Threatened Handley’s Tailless Bat (Anoura cultrata), the Vulnerable Lemurine Night Monkey (Aotus lemurinus), the Near Threatened Margay (Leopardus wiedii), the Near Threatened Yellow Isthmus Rat (Isthmomys flavidus), the Near Threatened White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari), and the Near Threatened Spectral Bat (Vampyrum spectrum). There are two special status bird species occurring in the ecoregion: the Endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) and the Near Threatened Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).
- C.Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013. "Panamanian dry forests".. Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Peter Saundry
- Jesse R. Lasky & Timothy H. Keitt. 2009. Abundance of Panamanian dry forest birds along gradients of forest cover at multiple scales. Journal of Tropical Ecology. Vol 26 pp 67-78
Margays inhabit tropical and subtropical forests. The majority of published observations were made in forested environments, although L. wiedii occasionally occupies more disturbed areas.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Habitat and Ecology
The margay is a small-sized (3.3 kg) solitary felid, with an average litter size of 1.09 (1–2) (Oliveira and Cassaro 2005). Activity pattern is predominately nocturno-crepuscular, with few records of daytime activity. Prey base consists mostly of small mammals, birds and reptiles, with average prey size at <200 g, but does include larger sized prey (>1 kg). Although margays are highly arboreal, most prey recorded are terrestrial (Oliveira 1998). The limited information on home range size varies from 1 to 20 km². The margay occurs at low population densities throughout most of its range, and its numbers/densities are negatively impacted by the larger ocelot, its potential intra-guild predator/competitor (Oliveira et al. in press, in submission).
Comments: Prefers heavily forested areas (evergreen and deciduous). Arboreal and terrestrial. Probably dens in thickets or other protected areas.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Margays eat a wide range of prey, including terrestrial and arboreal mammals, birds and their eggs, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, and fruit.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Comments: Probably depends on various mammalian, avian, and reptilian prey.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20
Comments: Nowhere common.
1 - 1000 individuals
Requires large, undisturbed home range. Solitary.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Comments: Probably primarily nocturnal.
Status: captivity: 20.0 years.
Status: captivity: 13.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Most reproductive statistics come from captive animals; all aspects of behavior and physiology are virtually unstudied in the field (Azevedo, 1996; Mansard, 1997; Nowak, 1999). Females may breed in their first year. Estrous cycles are approximately 33 days, but may be shorter if mating does not occur. Gestation may last from 76 to 84 days, with a litter size of one, sometimes two. Young begin eating solid food after 8 weeks.
Breeding season: Margays may breed throughout the year.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average gestation period: 81 days.
Range weaning age: 52 (low) days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 (low) years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 166.5 g.
Average gestation period: 81 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Parental Investment: altricial
- Azevedo, F. 1996. Notes on the behavior of the margay Felis wiedii (Schinz, 1821), (Carnivora, Felidae), in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Mammalia, 60: 325-328.
- Mansard, P. 1997. Breeding and husbandry of the Margay Leopardus wiedii yucatanica at the Ridgeway Trust for Endangered Cats, Hastings. International Zoo Yearbook, 35: 94-100.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: John's Hopkins University Press.
Probably breeds year-round. Probably rears one or two young per year.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leopardus wiedii
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
This species is rare and endangered throughout its range. In the past, thousands of individuals per year were harvested for their fur. Hunting pressure has decreased considerably following international protection, although some illegal harvesting still occurs locally. The virtually exclusive use of forested habitat may make L. wiedii more vulnerable than ocelots to the negative effects of habitat destruction and fragmentation.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
- Nowell, K., P. Jackson. 1996. Wild Cats: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2002Least Concern
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
- 1982Vulnerable(Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NX - Presumed Extirpated
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Rare in large range, extending from Mexico to South America; population trend is poorly known; habitat loss (e.g., deforestation in Central America) and overexploitation for the fur trade have contributed to the scarcity of this cat; sensitive to human disturbance of habitat.
Date Listed: 03/28/1972
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Leopardus wiedii, see its USFWS Species Profile
Degree of Threat: A : Very threatened throughout its range communities directly exploited or their composition and structure irreversibly threatened by man-made forces, including exotic species
Comments: Threatened by fur hunters and illegal trade (caught in traps set for ocelot) and habitat destruction, such as deforestation in Central America (Kitchener 1991). Requires large, undisturbed home range, making it sensitive to human disturbances.
Biological Research Needs: Obtain better information on breeding habits, food, and home range.
Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed
Comments: There may be some protection in Costa Rica.
Needs: Become involved with the monitoring of the illegal fur trade.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Margays offer no adverse effects to humans, except perhaps for the occasional livestock deprivation, such as chickens.
Margays were used commercially for their skins in the past.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small cat native to Central and South America that is listed as "Near Threatened" by the IUCN since 2008 because remaining populations are thought to be declining due to loss of habitat following conversion of forests.
The margay is a solitary and nocturnal cat. It lives foremost in primary evergreen and deciduous forest. Until the 1990s margays used to be hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which has resulted in a large population decrease.
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 kilograms (5.7 to 8.8 lb), with a body length of 48 to 79 centimetres (19 to 31 in), and a tail length of 33 to 51 centimetres (13 to 20 in). Unlike most other cats, the female possesses only two teats.
The 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.
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 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 feet (3.7 m) horizontally. The margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot. Its look is also similar to the oncilla, another related Neotropical feline.
Distribution and habitat
The margay is found from southern Mexico, through Central America and in northern South America east of the Andes. The southern edge of its range reaches Uruguay and northern Argentina. They are found almost exclusively in areas of dense forest, ranging from tropical evergreen forest to tropical dry forest and high cloud forest. Margays have sometimes also been observed in coffee and cocoa plantations.
Fossil evidence of margays or margay-like cats has been found in Florida and Georgia dating to the Pleistocene, suggesting that they had a wider distribution in the past. The last record from Texas was from 1852.
Because the margay is mostly nocturnal and is naturally rare in its environment, most dietary studies have been based on stomach contents and fecal analysis. This cat eats small mammals (sometimes including monkeys), birds, eggs, lizards and tree frogs. It may also eat grass 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. However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as cane rats and guinea pigs.
There has been one report of a margay using auditory mimicry to try to lure one of its prey. A margay was observed to imitate the call of a pied tamarin infant while in the presence of a group of adult tamarins, leading the adults to investigate. While the margay was not successful in catching one of the monkeys, this represents the first observation of a Neotropical predator employing this type of mimicry.
While margays are primarily nocturnal, in some areas they have also been observed to hunt during the day. They prefer to spend most of their life in the trees, but also travel across the ground, especially when moving between hunting areas. During the day, they rest in relatively inaccessible branches or clumps of lianas.
Like most cats, they are solitary, with the adults only commonly meeting to mate. They are sparsely distributed even within their natural environment, occupying relatively large home ranges of 11 to 16 square kilometres (4.2 to 6.2 sq mi). They use scent marking to indicate their territory, including urine spraying and leaving scratch marks on the ground or on branches. Their vocalisations all appear to be short range; they do not call to each other over long distances.
Reproduction and life cycle
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.
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 grams (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 up to twenty-four years in captivity.
Infants suffer from a 50% mortality rate; coupled with the problems they have breeding in captivity, makes the prospect of increasing the population very difficult.
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 - also known as the "ocelittle"
- 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
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- Anywhere Costa Rica
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly included in the genus FELIS. Placed in the genus LEOPARDUS by Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 1993) and Jones et al. (1997), and in the genus FELIS by Jones et al. (1992). Some have suggested that LEOPARDUS WIEDII and LEOPARDUS TIGRINUS may be conspecific, whereas others have considered the differences between WIEDII and TIGRINUS to warrant generic distinction (see Wozencraft, in Wilson and Reeder 1993).