Scientific classification
Species: L. wiedii[2]
Binomial name
Leopardus wiedii[2]
(Schinz, 1821)
Margay range
  • Felis wiedii

The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small wild cat native to Central and South America. A solitary and nocturnal cat,[3] it lives mainly in primary evergreen and deciduous forest.[4]

Until the 1990s, margays were hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which resulted in a large population decrease.[5] 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.[1]

In his first description, Schinz named the margay Felis wiedii in honour of Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied who collected specimens in Brazil.[6]


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.[7]

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.[7]

Most notably the margay is a much more skilful 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[7] 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.[7] The margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.

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.[7]

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.[8]

Behavior and ecology

While margays are 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.[7]

Margays have recently been discovered to hunt by mimicking the vocalisation of a prey species, pied tamarin (Saguinus bicolor),[9] which has been compared by scientists to tool-use by monkeys.[10]


Because the margay is mostly nocturnal[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as cane rats and guinea pigs.[7]

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.[14][15]

Reproduction and lifecycle

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.[7] Unlike other felid species, margays are not induced ovulators.[16]

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 more than 20 years in captivity.[7] A 26-year-old margay named Carlota lives at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as of April 2018.[17]

Infants 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.[18]


These are the currently recognized subspecies:[2]

Local names

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 mbarakaya, the term originally referred only to the margay, but is now also used for domestic cats.


  1. 1 2 de Oliveira, T.; Paviolo, A.; Schipper, J.; Bianchi, R.; Payan, E. & Carvajal, S.V. (2015). "Leopardus wiedii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T11511A50654216.en
  2. 1 2 3 Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 539–540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  3. Petersen, M. K. (1977). "Behaviour of the margay". In R. L. Eaton. The world’s cats, Vol. 3 (2). Seattle: Carnivore Research Institute, University of Washington. pp. 69–76.
  4. Bisbal, F. J. (1989). "Distribution and habitat association of the carnivores in Venezuela". In K. H. Redford and J. F. Eisenberg. Advances in neotropical mammalogy. Gainesville: Sandhill Crane Press. pp. 339–362.
  5. Aranda, J. M. (1991). "Wild mammal skin trade in Chiapas, Mexico". In J. G. Robinson and K. H. Redford. Neotropical wildlife use and conservation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 174–177.
  6. Cuvier, G., Schinz, H. R. (1821). "Wiedische Katze Felis wiedii". Das Thierreich eingetheilt nach dem Bau der Thiere: als Grundlage ihrer Naturgeschichte und der vergleichenden Anatomie. Säugethiere und Vögel, Volume 1. Stuttgart, Tübingen: Cotta. pp. 235–236.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Sunquist, M.; Sunquist, F. (2002). Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 135–141. ISBN 0-226-77999-8.
  8. Kays, R.W.; Wilson, D. E. (2002). Mammals of North America. Illustrated by Sandra Doyle, Nancy Halliday, Ron Klingner, Elizabeth McClelland, Consie Powell, Wendy Smith, Todd Zalewski, Diane Gibbons, Susan C. Morse, Jesse Guertin. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07012-1.
  9. Calleia, F. d. O.; Rohe, F.; Gordo, M. (2009). "Hunting strategy of the Margay (Leopardus wiedii) to attract the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor)" (PDF). Neotropical Primates. Neotropical Section of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. 16 (1): 32–34. doi:10.1896/044.016.0107. ISSN 1413-4705. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 June 2010.
  10. Angier, N. (2010). "Surviving by Disguising: Nature's Game of Charades". Basics. New York Times. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  11. Anywhere Costa Rica
  12. Wang, E. (2002). "Diets of Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), Margays (L. wiedii), and Oncillas (L. tigrinus) in the Atlantic Rainforest in Southeast Brazil" (PDF). Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment. 37 (3): 207–212. doi:10.1076/snfe. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  13. Solórzano-filho, J.A. (2006). "Mobbing of Leopardus wiedii while hunting by a group of Sciurus ingrami in an Araucaria forest of Southeast Brazil". Mammalia. 70 (1/2): 156–157. doi:10.1515/MAMM.2006.031. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  14. Calleia, F. O.; Rohe, F.; Gordo, M. (2009). "Hunting Strategy of the Margay (Leopardus wiedii) to Attract the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor)" (PDF). Neotropical Primates. Conservation International. 16 (1): 32–34. doi:10.1896/044.016.0107. ISSN 1413-4705. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  15. Dell'Amore, C. (2010). "Jungle Cat Mimics Monkey to Lure Prey—A First". National Geographic Daily News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  16. de Morais, Rosana Nogueira. "Reproduction in small felid males." Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of South American Wild Animals (2008): 312.
  17. "Meet Carlota". Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Facebook. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  18. IUNC Wild Cats Book. "Margay Fact." Big Cat Rescue. IUNC, n.d. Web. .

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