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A male tayra, Brazil
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Eira
Hamilton Smith, 1842
E. barbara
Binomial name
Eira barbara
Tayra range

Mustela barbara Linnaeus, 1758

The tayra (Eira barbara) is an omnivorous animal from the weasel family, native to the Americas. It is the only species in the genus Eira.

Tayras are also known as the tolomuco or perico ligero in Central America, motete in Honduras, irara in Brazil, san hol or viejo de monte in the Yucatan Peninsula, and high-woods dog (or historically chien bois) in Trinidad.[2] The genus name Eira is derived from the indigenous name of the animal in Bolivia and Peru, while barbara means "strange" or "foreign".[3]


Tayras are long, slender animals with a body type similar to that of a fisher or marten, but with the build and appearance of a smaller, sleeker wolverine. They range from 56 to 71 cm (22 to 28 in) in length, not including a 37- to 46-cm-long (15 to 18 in) bushy tail, and weigh 2.7 to 7.0 kg (6.0 to 15.4 lb). Males are larger and (slightly) more muscular than females. They have short, dark brown to black fur which is relatively uniform in length and color across the body, limbs, and tail, except for a yellow or orange "heart"-shaped spot on the chest; the tayra's heart-shaped patch is unique and is used by field biologists to identify individuals.[4]

The fur on the head and neck is much paler, typically tan or greyish in colour. Albino, white, or pale-yellow individuals are also known, and are not as rare among tayras as they are among other mustelids.[3]

The feet have toes of unequal length with tips that form a strongly curved line when held together. The claws are short and curved, but strong, being adapted for climbing and running rather than digging. The pads of the feet are hairless, but are surrounded by stiff sensory hairs. The head has small, rounded ears, long sensory whiskers, and black eyes with a blue-green shine. Like most other mustelids, tayras possess anal scent glands, but these are not particularly large, and their secretion is not as pungent as in other species (and is not used in self-defence, as with skunks).[3]

Range and habitat[edit]

Distribution of tayra subspecies.

Tayras are found across most of South America east of the Andes, except for Uruguay, eastern Brazil, and all but the most northerly parts of Argentina. They are also found across the whole of Central America, in Mexico as far north as southern Veracruz, and on the island of Trinidad.[1] They are generally found in only tropical and subtropical forests. However, they may cross grasslands at night to move between forest patches,[5] and they also inhabit cultivated plantations and croplands.[1]


At least seven subspecies are currently recognised:[3]

Behaviour and diet[edit]

Tayras are diurnal animals, although occasionally active during the evening or at night.[5] The social behaviour of tayras is not well understood. Assumed solitary, they have been seen in larger groups, presumably of mother and her larger offspring.[6] They are opportunistic omnivores, hunting rodents and other small mammals, as well as birds, lizards, other reptiles, and invertebrates, and climbing trees to get fruit and honey.[3][7][8] They locate prey primarily by scent, having relatively poor eyesight, and actively chase it once located, rather than stalking or using ambush tactics.[5]

They are expert climbers, using their long tails for balance. On the ground or on large horizontal tree limbs, they use a bounding gallop when moving at high speeds.[9] They can also leap from treetop to treetop when pursued.[citation needed] They generally avoid water, but are capable of swimming across rivers when necessary.[3]

They live in hollow trees, or burrows in the ground. Individual animals maintain relatively large home ranges, with areas up to 24 km2 (9.3 sq mi) having been recorded. They may travel at least 6 km (3.7 mi) in a single night.[3]

An interesting instance of caching has been observed among tayras: a tayra will pick unripe green plantains, which are inedible, and leave them to ripen in a cache, coming back a few days later to consume the softened pulp.[10]


Tayras breed year-round, with the females entering estrus several times each year for 3 to 20 days at a time.[11] Unlike some other mustelids, tayras do not exhibit embryonic diapause, and gestation lasts from 63 to 67 days. The female gives birth to one to three young, which she cares for alone.[3][12]

The young are altricial, being born blind and with closed ears, but are already covered in a full coat of black fur; they weigh about 100 g (3.5 oz) at birth. Their eyes open at 35 to 47 days, and they leave the den shortly thereafter. They begin to take solid food around 70 days of age, and are fully weaned by 100 days. Hunting behaviour begins as early as three months, and the mother initially brings her young wounded or slow prey to practise on as they improve their killing technique. The young are fully grown around 6 months old, and leave their mother to establish their own territory by 10 months.[3]


Wild tayra populations are slowly shrinking, especially in Mexico, due to habitat destruction for agricultural purposes. The species is listed as being of least concern.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d Cuarón, A.D.; Reid, F.; Helgen, K.; González-Maya, J.F. (2016). "Eira barbara". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T41644A45212151. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T41644A45212151.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Sistema de Publicaciones del INE". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Presley, S.J. (2000). "Eira barbara" (PDF). Mammalian Species. 636: 1–6. doi:10.1644/1545-1410(2000)636<0001:eb>2.0.co;2. S2CID 198968925.
  4. ^ Villafañe-Trujillo, Álvaro José; López-González, Carlos Alberto; Kolowski, Joseph M. (2018-01-24). "Throat patch variation in tayra (Eira barbara) and the potential for individual identification in the field". Diversity. 10 (1): 7. doi:10.3390/d10010007.
  5. ^ a b c Defler, T.R. (1980). "Notes on interactions between tayra (Eira barbara) and the white-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons)". Journal of Mammalogy. 61 (1): 156. doi:10.2307/1379979. JSTOR 1379979.
  6. ^ Hunter, Luke (2018). Field Guide to Carnivores of the World, 2nd edition. Bloomsbury Wildlife.
  7. ^ Galef, B.G.; et al. (1976). "Predation by the tayra (Eira barbara)". Journal of Mammalogy. 57 (4): 760–761. doi:10.2307/1379450. JSTOR 1379450.
  8. ^ "Eira barbara (Tayra)". Animal Diversity Web.
  9. ^ Kavanau, J.L. (1971). "Locomotion and activity phasing of some medium-sized mammals". Journal of Mammalogy. 52 (2): 396–403. doi:10.2307/1378681. JSTOR 1378681.
  10. ^ Soley, F.G. & Alvarado-Díaz, I. (8 July 2011). "Prospective thinking in a mustelid? Eira barbara (Carnivora) cache unripe fruits to consume them once ripened". Naturwissenschaften. 98 (8): 693–698. Bibcode:2011NW.....98..693S. doi:10.1007/s00114-011-0821-0. PMID 21739130. S2CID 6205887.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Poglayen-Neuwall, I. "Copulatory behavior, gestation and parturition of the tayra." Bull. Br. Mus. (Nat. Hist.) Zool. 7 (1974): 1-140.
  12. ^ Vaughan, R. (1974). "Breeding the tayra (Eira barbara) at Antelope Zoo, Lincoln". International Zoo Yearbook. 14: 120–122. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1090.1974.tb00791.x.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nowak, Ronald M. (2005). Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. ISBN 0-8018-8032-7
  • Emmons, L.H. (1997). Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-20721-8