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The margay varies in color from tawny yellow to greyish brown, and the coat is marked with rows of dark spots, lines, and open rosettes. The center of each rosette, is slightly paler, but still darker than the ground color of the fur. The belly, chest, throat, chin, and insides of the legs are snowy white. There is much individual variation in coat pattern. The rather bushy tail is as much as 70% of the body length, and marked with broad rings and a black tip. The large eyes are dark brown.
Margays average two feet from feet to shoulders, three feet in length (exclusive of tail), and weigh five to twelve pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
The margay inhabits tropical and subtropical forested regions from Northern Mexico to Uruguay and northern Argentina.
Although occasionally reported outside forested areas, such as in shaded cocoa or coffee plantations, the margay is more strongly associated with forest habitat than any other tropical American cat. It appears to be less tolerant of human settlement and altered habitat than other species, but may occur in disturbed areas with sufficient tree cover.
The margay preys on a variety of arboreal and terrestrial mammals, birds and their eggs, amphibians, reptiles, and arthropods; it has also been known to take fruit.
Mating may occur at any time of the year. Courtship behavior has never been observed in the wild.
One, sometimes two, kitten is born after a gestation of 76 to 84 days. The young are darker than the adults, and have uniformly dark spots and dark grey paws. Eyes open at about two weeks, weaning takes place at around two months, and sexual maturity is reached at about two years. Margays have been known to live to 20 years of age in captivity.
Other Habits and Behaviors
Margays are notable for their climbing prowess and arboriality. Although they spend most of their time in the trees, they will hunt and travel on the ground. Their broad, soft feet and mobile toes allow them to hang from tree limbs by one hind foot, and flexible ankles can rotate the foot 180 degrees outward. They are exceedingly quick, and even during a fall they can grab hold of a branch with one front or hind paw and climb up again. Unlike most cats who descend trees hind feet first, margays often descend head first.
Margays are solitary except for breeding and mothers with kittens.
As the large eyes suggest, they are primarily nocturnal.
This page was last updated on April 10, 2017.