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Margays

Margays

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  • Scientific Name: Leopardus wiedii
  • Status in the Wild: Threatened
  • Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests, Woodlands
  • Diet: Omnivore

Margays are Costa Rica's second-smallest wildcat, weighing up to 9 pounds. Often confused with the smaller oncilla or larger ocelot, margays have large brown eyes, a broad muzzle, long tail and a reddish-brown coat with distinctive spots and stripes.

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The cat's genus, Leopardus, is derived from the Greek "leon" and Latin "pardus" (leopard); its species name, wiedii, comes courtesy of the first man, Prince Maximilliann zu Wied, to provide a margay specimen. Margays are also called tree ocelots, thanks to their arboreal natures, and in Spanish are known as the caucel. 

This nocturnal mammal is the most arboreal of all New World cats. Their extra long tails provide balance and counterweight for jumping from branch to branch. Large claws effectively grasp tree trunks, enabling the cats to hang from just one paw. Unique among all feline species, margays also have very flexible ankle bones that are capable of rotating 180º, allowing the animal to climb down trees face-first.

Margays are equally comfortable on the ground, and are able to leap an incredible 8 feet vertically and 12 feet horizontally – a helpful tool for catching prey. However, they are most often observed hunting in the trees, where they prefer small vertebrates like birds, squirrels and even monkeys, as well as fruits and leaves. On the forest floor, margays hunt for rabbits, mice, young agoutis, small amphibians and reptiles. 

Habitat: 

Margays range from Mexico through Central America, crossing into South America as far as Uruguay and northern Argentina. In Costa Rica, this small cat lives almost throughout the country, but is reclusive and not often spotted in the wild. They are most common in Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and Santa Rosa National Park.

The cats prefer rainforest habitats, but may also live in tropical dry forest, cloud forest and wooded areas from sea level to 10,000 feet. They spend most of their lives in trees, and sleep in the forest canopy or vine tangles 23-33 feet above the ground.

Reproduction: 

Margays are solitary animals that only come together to mate. When a female is in heat, she calls a male to mate several times daily, most often in trees. Gestation lasts approximately 80 days – long for a cat of this size. As is typical of arboreal mammals, margays generally give birth to just one kitten. Kittens begin to venture away from their den around five weeks and will be completely weaned by two months. While young margays are physically mature around 10 months, they will not reach sexual maturity until two years old.

Status in the Wild: 

In the 1960's, 1970's and early 1980's, margays were hunted ruthlessly for their beautiful coats. Though once considered vulnerable to extinction, margay populations have recovered and the cats are now classified as near threatened. However, margays are do not survive well in disturbed areas, and are therefore very sensitive to deforestation and other forms of habitat loss. 

Margays in Pictures