Indian Tiger » Wild Cats » Margay
Tiger, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve


MargayOf 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!

Zoological name: Leopardus wiedii

Species: Long considered to be a member of the genus Felis, the margay, in the latest review of cat taxonomy, has been placed with its closest relatives in the genus Leopardus (Wozencraft 1993). These three species (margay, L. wiedi, ocelot, L. pardalis and oncilla, L. tigrina) have 36 chromosomes, most other cats have 38.
Eleven subspecies of margay have been described:
- F. (L.) w. wiedii East and central Brazil to north Argentina
- F. (L.) w. amazonica Amazonas, Brazil
- F. (L.) w. boliviae Bolivia and Mato Grosso, Brazil
- F. (L.) w. cooperi Nuevo Leon, Mexico and Texas border
- F. (L.) w. glacula Sinaloa to north Oaxaca, Mexico
- F. (L.) w. nicaraguae Honduras to Costa Rica
- F. (L.) w. oaxacensis Tamaulipas to Oaxaca, Mexico
- F. (L.) w. pirrensis Panama to north Peru
- F. (L.) w. salvinia Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador
- F. (L.) w. vigens Orinoco to Amazon Basin
- F. (L.) w. yucatanica North Chiapas to north Guatemala and Yucatan

Presence on the planet: Distributed from northern Mexico through Panama, northern Colombia , Peru, northern and eastern Paraguay, northern Uruguay extreme northern Argentina, these little cats live almost exclusively in humid evergreen forests.

Physical description: These cats are similar to ocelots, but much smaller. They have golden ground color, covered in large spots. Their tail, which can be up to 70% of its total body length, is so long because they are arboreal and use their long tail for balance. Like most cat species, they have black ears with large white spots on the back, which is used for signaling mood.
They have a short rounded head with very large eyes. Margays in the more mountainous areas of their range have darker black markings. Unlike any other cat, they have the ability to rotate their ankles around 180º and climb down a tree head first, like a squirrel. They are often confused with the two similar species the oncilla and ocelot; the margay is midway between these two species in size.

MargayDiet: Thought to forage entirely in trees, the margay eats small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards and tree frogs. They will eat grass and other vegetation, probably to aid digestion.

Reproduction & Offspring: They are diurnal (daytime lifestyle), and spend much of their time in trees. They are the only cat that can climb down a tree head-first. Mating can occur any time during the year, but only once a year. Gestation period is about 2.5 months, after which a single kitten is born in a nest in a hollow tree. The kitten is grey and has black spots all over. Their eyes open at 2 weeks old. It may venture outside of its nest at five weeks. Weaning begins at 2 months old.

Conservation status: Extremely 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 the ocelot (/L. pardalis/) to the negative effects of habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Life span: 18 years
Exceptionally flexible joint of Margay!

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the margay is the exceptionally flexible ankle joint. It can supinate through 180° enabling the margay, unlike most cats, to run head first down a tree. This is quite evidently an important adaptation for a tree-dwelling animal. They can grasp branches equally well with their fore and hind paws, and are able to jump considerable distances. Margays have been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.

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