Costa RicaCosta Rica

       tayra on tree trunk
  - Costa Rica

Tayras

Tayras

Hilights

  • Scientific Name: Eira barbara
  • Status in the Wild: Common
  • Habitat: Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests, Woodlands
  • Diet: Omnivore

The tayra looks like an otter, swims like a fish and climbs like a cat. Known in Spanish as a tolomuco or tejon, the tayra is easily distinguished by its bushy tail and slick coat, which is dark gray-brown, with a diamond patch on the throat – a color variation only observed in Costa Rica and Panama.

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These mammals, which are cousins to weasels, weigh around 11 pounds and measure approximately 26 inches from snout to tail. When threatened, the tayra emits a clipped, barking call and uses its long claws to scale the nearest tree for protection. 

Tayras get their scientific name from the South American Guarani "eira," or honey-eater, and the Greek "barbara," meaning strange. True to name, tayras are known for their sweet tooth, and will pillage stingless bee hives in search of honey. They are omnivores and opportunistic feeders; in addition to a regular diet of invertebrates, fruit, and small animals such as rats, opossums, iguanas, and birds, tayras also hunt creatures much larger than themselves. Some of their greater hunting feats include venomous pit vipers, capuchin monkeys, and brocket deer.

This terrestrial and arboreal mammal is most active during the day. Tayras have large ranges, from 2,200 to 5,900 acres, and travel up to five miles per day. They are typically solitary creatures, but may be observed in small groups of three to four individuals. Tayras most often hunt on the ground, but are excellent tree climbers and are able to leap from treetop to treetop in search of hanging fruit or to escape the dangers of the forest floor.

Habitat:

Tayras range from central Mexico to northern Argentina and the island of Trinidad, and can be found from sea level to 7,900 feet in altitude. They tend to live in or near forested areas, both virgin and disturbed. They are common throughout Costa Rica, except in the cool regions of the central and southern Talamanca Mountains. 

Reproduction:

Tayras have not been extensively studied in the wild, and little is known about their reproduction. During mating season, they make cat-like yowls to signal readiness. Gestation lasts approximately nine weeks, and females give birth to up to four young; two is the average litter size. Tayra juveniles nurse for two to three months before striking out on their own.   

Status in the Wild:

Tayras found in Costa Rica are considered a species of least concern. However, the IUCN lists one of the subspecies found in Mexico, Eira barbara senex, as vulnerable. Humans are one of the tayra's main predators, since the mammals, which occasionally snatch poultry or damage crops, can be a nuisance for farmers. Dogs and wildcats also hunt tayra.