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Margay in Costa Rica.jpg
Margay in Costa Rica
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Leopardus
L. wiedii[1]
Binomial name
Leopardus wiedii[1]
(Schinz, 1821)
Margay distribution.jpg
Distribution of the margay, 2015[2]
  • 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.[2]

The scientific name Felis wiedii was used by Heinrich Rudolf Schinz in 1821 in his first scientific description of the margay, in honour of Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, who collected specimens in Brazil.[6]


The margay is very similar to the larger ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) 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]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The margay is distributed from the tropical lowlands in Mexico through Central America to Brazil and Paraguay.[2] In Mexico it has been recorded in 24 of the 32 states, ranging northward up the coastal lowlands and Sierra Madres as far north as of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas on the US border in the east and southern Sonora in the west.[8] The southern edge of its range reaches Uruguay and northern Argentina. It inhabits almost exclusively dense forests, ranging from tropical evergreen forest to tropical dry forest and high cloud forest. The margay has sometimes been observed in coffee and cocoa plantations.[7]

The only record from the US was collected sometime before 1852 near Eagle Pass, Maverick County, Texas, and it is currently considered locally extinct in Texas.[9][10] The margay's presence in the United States is considered "uncertain" by the IUCN Red List.[2] Fossil margay remains have been collected in Pleistocene deposits in Orange County, Texas, along the Sabine River, and it is thought to have ranged over considerable portions of southern Texas at one time.[9]

Fossil evidence of margays or margay-like cats dubbed Leopardus amnicola has been found in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina dating to the Pleistocene, suggesting that they had an even wider distribution in the past.[11][12]

Behavior and ecology[edit]

A margay photographed in Turvo State Park, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

The margay is a skillful climber, and colloquially it is sometimes called the tree ocelot because of this ability. It spends most of the time in trees, leaping after and chasing birds and monkeys through the treetops. It can turn its ankles up to 180 degrees, so 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] They also utilize their long tails to maintain balance while climbing. Morphological adaptation such as these is a strong indication that the margay is well equipped to thrive in ecosystems such as rainforests in which vegetation provides the wild with protection from possible threats. Additionally, scientists that have conducted behavioral studies on margays found that population density was higher in environments with substantial amount of trees and minimal human disturbance.[13]


Dietary studies based on stomach contents and fecal analysis showed that it feeds on small mammals including monkeys, birds, eggs, lizards, tree frogs and arthropods.[14] It also hunts Ingram's squirrel, eats grass, fruit and other vegetation, most likely to help digestion. It is able to hunt its prey entirely in trees.[15] However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as guinea pigs.[7]

Reproduction and lifecycle[edit]

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 of 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 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 eat 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]

Cubs suffer from a 50% mortality rate. Unless mortality rates were previously lower, this is not a factor in the population decline. Simplifying, provided a pair of cats can raise 2 kittens to adulthood in their lifetime, population would be in equilibrium. Assuming one year to reach breeding age, then as long as the cats that survive infancy reach 5 years of age on average, then the pair would produce 4 kittens, of which 2 would survive infancy, thus providing a replacement pair. Coupled with the problems they have breeding in captivity, this makes the prospect of increasing the population very difficult.[citation needed]

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.[7]

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.[17]


Felis wiedii was the scientific name proposed by Heinrich Rudolf Schinz in 1821 for a zoological specimen from Brazil.[6] 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.[18] 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.[19]
  • Felis wiedii vigens by Thomas in 1904 was an adult male cat skin and skull from Igarapé-Assu near Pará in Brazil.[20]
  • Felis pirrensis by Edward Alphonso Goldman in 1914 was an adult female cat skin and skull from Cana in eastern Panama.[21]
  • Margay glaucula nicaraguae by Joel Asaph Allen in 1919 was an adult male cat skin and skull from Volcan de Chinandego in Nicaragua.[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • Felis wiedii cooperi by Nelson in 1943 was a skin of a male cat from Eagle Pass, Texas.[24]

Results of a genetic study of margay mitochondrial DNA samples indicate that three phylogeographic groups exist.[25] Therefore, three subspecies are currently considered valid taxa:[26]

  • L. w. wiedii south of the Amazonas
  • L. w. vigens north of the Amazonas
  • L. w. glauculus in Central America

Local names[edit]

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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Species Leopardus wiedii". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). 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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f de Oliveira, T.; Paviolo, A.; Schipper, J.; Bianchi, R.; Payan, E. & Carvajal, S.V. (2015). "Leopardus wiedii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T11511A50654216. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T11511A50654216.en. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  3. ^ Petersen, M. K. (1977). "Behaviour of the margay". In R. L. Eaton (ed.). 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 (ed.). Advances in neotropical mammalogy. Gainesville: Sandhill Crane Press. pp. 339–362.
  5. ^ Aranda, J. M. (1991). "Wild mammal skin trade in Chiapas, Mexico". In Robinson, J. G.; Redford, K. H. (eds.). Neotropical wildlife use and conservation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 174–177.
  6. ^ a b Schinz, H. R. (1821). "Wiedische Katze Felis wiedii". Das Thierreich eingetheilt nach dem Bau der Thiere: als Grundlage ihrer Naturgeschichte und der vergleichenden Anatomie von dem Herrn Ritter von Cuvier. Säugethiere und Vögel, Volume 1. Stuttgart, Tübingen: Cotta. pp. 235–236.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Sunquist, M.; Sunquist, F. (2002). Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 135–141. ISBN 0-226-77999-8.
  8. ^ Aranda, M. & Monroy, O. (2014). "Margay". In Ceballos, G. (ed.). Mammals of Mexico. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 855–857. ISBN 978-1-4214-0843-9.
  9. ^ a b Schmidly, D. J. (2004). The Mammals of Texas (Sixth ed.). Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70241-8.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Hulbert, R. C.; Morgan, G. S.; Kerner, A. (2009). "Collared Paccary (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Tayassuidae, Pecari) from the Late Pleistocene of Florida". Papers on Geology, Vertebrate Paleontology, and Biostratigraphy in Honor of Michael O. Woodburne. Flagstaff, AZ: Museum of Northern Arizona. pp. 551–556. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ Hulbert, R.C.; Pratt, A.E. (1998). "New pleistocene (Rancholabrean) vertebrate faunas from coastal Georgia". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 18 (2): 412–429. doi:10.1080/02724634.1998.10011069.
  13. ^ Horn, Paula E.; Pereira, Maria J. R.; Trigo, Tatiane C.; Eizirik, Eduardo; Tirelli, Flávia P. (6 May 2020). "Margay (Leopardus wiedii) in the southernmost Atlantic Forest: Density and activity patterns under different levels of anthropogenic disturbance". PLOS ONE. 15 (5): e0232013. Bibcode:2020PLoSO..1532013H. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0232013. PMC 7202647. PMID 32374736.
  14. ^ Wang, E. (2002). "Diets of Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), Margays (L. wiedii), and Oncillas (L. tigrinus) in the Atlantic Rainforest in southeast Brazil". Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment. 37 (3): 207–212. doi:10.1076/snfe. S2CID 83976479.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ de Morais, Rosana Nogueira. "Reproduction in small felid males." Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of South American Wild Animals (2008): 312.
  17. ^ Calleia, F. d. O.; Rohe, F.; Gordo, M. (2009). "Hunting strategy of the Margay (Leopardus wiedii) to attract the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor)". Neotropical Primates. Neotropical Section of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. 16 (1): 32–34. doi:10.1896/044.016.0107. ISSN 1413-4705. S2CID 84438545.
  18. ^ Wied zu, M. (1825). "Felis macroura". Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte von Brasilien. Vol. II. Weimar: Gr. H. S. priv. Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs. pp. 371–379.
  19. ^ Thomas, O. (1903). "Notes on Neotropical mammals of the genera Felis, Hapale, Oryzomys, Akodon and Ctenomys, with descriptions of new species". Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 7. 12 (68): 234–243. doi:10.1080/00222930308678847.
  20. ^ Thomas, O. (1904). "New Callithrix, Midas, Felis, Rhipidomys and Proechimys from Brazil and Ecuador". The Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 7. 14 (81): 188–196. doi:10.1080/03745480409442992.
  21. ^ Goldman, E. A. (1914). "Descriptions of five new mammals from Panama". Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. 63 (5): 1–7. hdl:2027/uiug.30112106674572.
  22. ^ Allen, J. A. (1919). "Notes on the synonymy and nomenclature of the smaller spotted cats of tropical America" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 41: 341–419.
  23. ^ Nelson, E. W. & Goldman, E. A. (1931). "New carnivores and rodents from Mexico". Journal of Mammalogy. 12 (3): 302–306. doi:10.2307/1373882. JSTOR 1373882.
  24. ^ Nelson, E. W. (1943). "The races of the ocelot and margay in Middle America". Journal of Mammalogy. 24 (3): 372–385. doi:10.2307/1374838. JSTOR 1374838.
  25. ^ Eizirik E.; Bonatto S. L.; Johnson W. E.; Crawshaw Jr. P. G.; Vié J. C.; Brousset D. M.; O'Brien S. J.; Salzano F. M. (1998). "Phylogeographic patterns and evolution of the mitochondrial DNA control region in two Neotropical cats (Mammalia, Felidae)". Journal of Molecular Evolution. 47 (5): 613–624. Bibcode:1998JMolE..47..613E. doi:10.1007/PL00006418. PMID 9797412. S2CID 19865180.
  26. ^ Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; Werdelin, L.; Wilting, A.; Yamaguchi, N.; Abramov, A. V.; Christiansen, P.; Driscoll, C.; Duckworth, J. W.; Johnson, W.; Luo, S.-J.; Meijaard, E.; O'Donoghue, P.; Sanderson, J.; Seymour, K.; Bruford, M.; Groves, C.; Hoffmann, M.; Nowell, K.; Timmons, Z.; Tobe, S. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News. Special Issue 11: 49−50.

External links[edit]