|Margay in Costa Rica|
|Distribution of the Margay, 2015|
Until the 1990s, margays were hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which resulted in a large population decrease. 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.
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.
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.
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 ft (3.7 m) horizontally. The margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.
Distribution and habitatEdit
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.
Behavior and ecologyEdit
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as cane rats and guinea pigs.
Reproduction and lifecycleEdit
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. Unlike other felid species, margays are not induced ovulators.
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.
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.
Felis wiedii was the scientific name proposed by Heinrich Rudolf Schinz in 1821 for a zoological specimen from Brazil.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. In the 20th century, several type specimens were described and proposed as new species or subspecies:
- Felis glaucula by Oldfield Thomas in 1903 was an adult female cat skin and skull from Jalisco in central Mexico.
- Felis wiedii vigens by Thomas in 1904 was an adult male cat skin and skull from Igarapé-Assu near Pará in Brazil.
- Felis pirrensis by Edward Alphonso Goldman in 1914 was an adult female cat skin and skull from Cana in eastern Panama.
- Margay glaucula nicaraguae by Joel Asaph Allen in 1919 was an adult male cat skin and skull from Volcan de Chinandego in Nicaragua.
- Felis glaucula oaxacensis and F. g. yucatanicus by Edward William Nelson and Goldman in 1931 were an adult male skin and skull from Cerro San Felipe in Oaxaca, and a female cat skin from Yucatan, Mexico, respectively.
- Felis wiedii cooperi by Nelson in 1943 was a skin of a male cat from Eagle Pass, Texas.
Results of a genetic study of margay mitochondrial DNA samples indicate that three phylogeographic groups exist. Therefore, three subspecies are currently considered Valid name (zoology) taxa:
- L. w. wiedii south of the Amazonas
- L. w. vigens north of the Amazonas
- L. w. glauculus in Central America
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.
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