Mammal Species of the World
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Leopardus wiedii is neotropical and sub-tropical. Margays may be found in forested regions from Northern Mexico to Uruguay and northern Argentina.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: John's Hopkins University Press.
- de Oliveira, T. 1998. Leopardus wiedii. Mammalian Species, 579: 1-6.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Extreme southern tip of Texas (formerly) south through Mexico and Central America to South America (south to Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina). Very rare in Central America (Kitchener 1991). Texas population may have disappeared over a century ago.
U.S.A. (TX), Central and South America
Margays are petite, spotted cats, resembling small, slender ocelots (Leopardus pardalis). Head and body length range from 463 to 790 mm, with tail length 331 to 510 mm. Weight 2.6 to 3.9 kg. Dark brown spots form longitudinal rows; fur otherwise tan (range: grayish to cinnamon) above, white ventrally. The pelage of these cats is soft and thick.
Range mass: 2.6 to 3.9 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 5.227 W.
- Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 1999. Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 3: the central Neotropics. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Length: 180 cm
Weight: 3200 grams
Size in North America
Average: 931 mm males; 907 mm females
Range: 862-1,300 mm males; 805-1,029 mm females
Range: 3-7 kg males; 3-5 kg females
Sonoran-Sinaloan Transition Subtropical Dry Forest Habitat
This taxon is found in the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest ecoregion, which comprises a distinct zone of dry forest that forms a north-south transition between the Sonoran Desert to the north and the Sinaloan dry forests to the south. There is a generally low faunal endemism and faunal species richnesss; for example, only 310 vertebrates species are found in the ecoregion, with a notable lack of amphibians and reptiles present. Characteristically tropical species include the magnificent Black-throated Magpie Jay (Calocitta colliei). On the other hand, many more typically northern desert species are also found here, including Jumping Cholla cactus (Opuntia fulgida) and Fish-hook Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wisliznei).
Bio-climatically, the ecoregion is classified as a dry steppe life-zone, in contrast to the more humid seasonal forests to the south, and arid deserts to the north. Like neighboring regions, rainfall predominates in the summers. Annual rainfall is approximately 10-20 cm. Because of its proximity to the coast, fluctuations in annual temperatures are only on the order of 10-15° C (difference between median monthly high and low temperature). Frost and temperatures below freezing are rare, in contrast to the Sonoran Desert, to the north. Unlike the distinctly xeric desert vegetation to the north, and the tropical deciduous forest to the south, the vegetation of the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition dry forest is dominated by a deciduous thorn forest or selva espinosa. Pockets of semiarid mattoral as well as thorn scrub are also present.
Dominant trees in this forest include many species from the families Acaciaceae, Burseraceae and Leguminosae. Cacti, such as Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), are often conspicuous and abundant. Overall, this dry forest is less pronounced and more seasonal than its southern cousin, particularly as one moves north to the margins of the Sonoran Desert. Common and characteristic plants include several acacias: Boat-thorned Acacia (Acacia cochliacantha); and Sonoran Tree Catclaw or Tésota (Acacia occidentalis). The former, a shrub, or small tree, is the only local acacia with boat-shaped thorns. The latter acacia flowers prolifically in March, perfuming the air so heavily that it can often be sensed by scent before it is seen. Another common species in the thorn forest is Torote Prieto (Bursera fragilis).
A number of mammalian taxa are found in this arid ecoregion, among them the following special status taxa; Margay (Leopardus wiedii NT); Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus mexicanus NT); Mexican Long-tongued Bat (Choeronycteris mexicana NT); and the Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae VU).
Although precise figures are not available, this region also supports a number of endemic and rare plants, including the arborescent morning glory or palo santo (Ipomea arborescens). This species flowers in the dry season, thus providing pollen to nectar-feeding long-tongued bats (Choeronycteris mexicana and Glossophaga soricina) – amongst the most important pollinators of the Sonoran region – at a time when few other plants are in flower.
Habitat and Ecology
The Margay is a small-sized (3.3 kg) solitary felid, with an average litter size of 1.09 (12) (Oliveira and Cassaro 2005). Activity pattern is predominately nocturno-crepuscular, with very few records of daytime activity. Prey base consists mostly of terrestrial and scansorial small mammals, but lizards and especially birds can comprise important items at some sites. Larger medium-sized mammals, like squirrels, rabbits, agoutis, and small monkeys are also taken, but to a lesser extent. The average prey size is around 250 g. Although Margay has high arboreal abilities, it hunts mostly on the ground and most prey recorded are terrestrial (Oliveira 1998, Wang 2002, Oliveira and Cassaro 2005, Bianchi et al. 2011). Given its arboreal capabilities there has been a recurring myth that this cat is either scansorial or arboreal. It indeed possesses several unique arboreal skills, but that does not necessarily make it arboreal per se. In fact, evidence is highly suggestive of terrestrial locomotion and hunting, but nevertheless with resting time notably up in trees (Oliveira 1998, Oliveira et al. 2010, Tortato et al. 2013). The limited information on home range size varies from 1 to 20 km (Oliveira et al. 2010). Home range reported for Mexico was 4.1 km for four males and 1 km for a female (Carvajal-Villarreal et al. 2012). The Margay occurs at low population densities throughout most of its range, and its numbers/densities are negatively impacted by the larger Ocelot, its potential intra-guild predator/competitor (Oliveira et al. 2010, Oliveira 2011).
Margays inhabit tropical and subtropical forests. The majority of published observations were made in forested environments, although L. wiedii occasionally occupies more disturbed areas.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Comments: Prefers heavily forested areas (evergreen and deciduous). Arboreal and terrestrial. Probably dens in thickets or other protected areas.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Margays eat a wide range of prey, including terrestrial and arboreal mammals, birds and their eggs, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, and fruit.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Comments: Probably depends on various mammalian, avian, and reptilian prey.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20
Comments: Nowhere common.
1 - 1000 individuals
Requires large, undisturbed home range. Solitary.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Comments: Probably primarily nocturnal.
Status: captivity: 20.0 years.
Status: captivity: 13.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Most reproductive statistics come from captive animals; all aspects of behavior and physiology are virtually unstudied in the field (Azevedo, 1996; Mansard, 1997; Nowak, 1999). Females may breed in their first year. Estrous cycles are approximately 33 days, but may be shorter if mating does not occur. Gestation may last from 76 to 84 days, with a litter size of one, sometimes two. Young begin eating solid food after 8 weeks.
Breeding season: Margays may breed throughout the year.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average gestation period: 81 days.
Range weaning age: 52 (low) days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 (low) years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 166.5 g.
Average gestation period: 81 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Parental Investment: altricial
- Azevedo, F. 1996. Notes on the behavior of the margay Felis wiedii (Schinz, 1821), (Carnivora, Felidae), in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Mammalia, 60: 325-328.
- Mansard, P. 1997. Breeding and husbandry of the Margay Leopardus wiedii yucatanica at the Ridgeway Trust for Endangered Cats, Hastings. International Zoo Yearbook, 35: 94-100.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: John's Hopkins University Press.
Probably breeds year-round. Probably rears one or two young per year.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leopardus wiedii
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Near Threatened (NT)
- 2002Least Concern (LC)
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- 1994Insufficiently Known (K)
- 1990Vulnerable (V)
- 1988Vulnerable (V)
- 1986Vulnerable (V)
- 1982Vulnerable (V)
This species is rare and endangered throughout its range. In the past, thousands of individuals per year were harvested for their fur. Hunting pressure has decreased considerably following international protection, although some illegal harvesting still occurs locally. The virtually exclusive use of forested habitat may make L. wiedii more vulnerable than ocelots to the negative effects of habitat destruction and fragmentation.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
- Nowell, K., P. Jackson. 1996. Wild Cats: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NX - Presumed Extirpated
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Rare in large range, extending from Mexico to South America; population trend is poorly known; habitat loss (e.g., deforestation in Central America) and overexploitation for the fur trade have contributed to the scarcity of this cat; sensitive to human disturbance of habitat.
Date Listed: 03/28/1972
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Leopardus wiedii, see its USFWS Species Profile
Degree of Threat: A : Very threatened throughout its range communities directly exploited or their composition and structure irreversibly threatened by man-made forces, including exotic species
Comments: Threatened by fur hunters and illegal trade (caught in traps set for ocelot) and habitat destruction, such as deforestation in Central America (Kitchener 1991). Requires large, undisturbed home range, making it sensitive to human disturbances.
Biological Research Needs: Obtain better information on breeding habits, food, and home range.
Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed
Comments: There may be some protection in Costa Rica.
Needs: Become involved with the monitoring of the illegal fur trade.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Margays offer no adverse effects to humans, except perhaps for the occasional livestock deprivation, such as chickens.
Margays were used commercially for their skins in the past.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small cat native to Central and South America that is listed as "Near Threatened" by the IUCN since 2008 because remaining populations are thought to be declining due to loss of habitat following conversion of forests.
The margay is a solitary and nocturnal cat. It lives foremost in primary evergreen and deciduous forest. Until the 1990s margays were hunted illegally for the wildlife trade, which resulted in a large population decrease.
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 kilograms (5.7 to 8.8 lb), with a body length of 48 to 79 centimetres (19 to 31 in), and a tail length of 33 to 51 centimetres (13 to 20 in). Unlike most other cats, the female possesses only two teats.
The 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.
Most notably the margay is a much more skillful 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 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 feet (3.7 m) horizontally. The margay has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot. Its look is also similar to the oncilla, another related Neotropical feline.
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.
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.
Because the margay is mostly nocturnal and is naturally rare in its environment, most dietary studies have been based on stomach contents and fecal analysis. This cat eats small mammals (sometimes including monkeys), birds, eggs, lizards and tree frogs. It may also eat grass 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. However, margays do sometimes hunt on the ground, and have been reported to eat terrestrial prey, such as cane rats and guinea pigs.
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.
While margays are primarily 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.
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.
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 up to twenty-four years in captivity.
Infants suffer from a 50% mortality rate; coupled with the problems they have breeding in captivity, makes the prospect of increasing the population very difficult.
These are the currently recognized subspecies:
- Leopardus wiedii wiedii, eastern and central Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina
- Leopardus wiedii amazonicus, western Brazil, inner parts of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela
- Leopardus wiedii boliviae, Bolivia - also known as the "ocelittle"
- Leopardus wiedii cooperi, northern Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii glauculus, central Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii nicaraguae, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
- Leopardus wiedii oaxacensis, southern Mexico
- Leopardus wiedii pirrensis, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
- Leopardus wiedii salvinius, Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador
- Leopardus wiedii yucatanicus, Yucatán
- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 539–540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Payan, E., Eizirik, E., de Oliveira, T., Leite-Pitman, R., Kelly, M. & Valderrama, C. (2008). "Leopardus wiedii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature.
- Cuvier, G., Schinz, H. R. (1821). Wiedische Katze Felis wiedii. In: Das Thierreich eingetheilt nach dem Bau der Thiere: als Grundlage ihrer Naturgeschichte und der vergleichenden Anatomie. Säugethiere und Vögel, Volume 1. Cotta, Stuttgart, Tübingen. Pp. 235–236.
- Petersen, M. K. (1977). Behaviour of the margay. Pp. 69–76 in R. L. Eaton (ed.) The world’s cats, Vol. 3 (2). Carnivore Research Institute, University of Washington, Seattle.
- Bisbal, F. J. (1989). Distribution and habitat association of the carnivores in Venezuela. Pp 339–362 in K. H. Redford and J. F. Eisenberg (eds.) Advances in neotropical mammalogy. Sandhill Crane Press, Gainesville.
- Aranda, J. M. (1991). Wild mammal skin trade in Chiapas, Mexico. Pp. 174–177 in J. G. Robinson and K. H. Redford (eds.) Neotropical wildlife use and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Sunquist, Mel; Sunquist, Fiona (2002). Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 135–141. ISBN 0-226-77999-8.
- Kays, Roland W.; Wilson, Don 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.
- Anywhere Costa Rica
- 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.126.96.36.19964. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- 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. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- Calleia, F. O.; Rohe, F.; Gordo, M. (June 2009). "Hunting Strategy of the Margay (Leopardus wiedii) to Attract the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor)". Neotropical Primates (Conservation International) 16 (1): 32–34. doi:10.1896/044.016.0107. ISSN 1413-4705. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
- Dell'Amore, Christine (2010-07-13). "Jungle Cat Mimics Monkey to Lure Prey—A First". National Geographic Daily News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
- Calleia, Fabiano de Oliveira; Rohe, Fabio; Gordo, Marcelo (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.
- Angier, Natalie (September 6, 2010). "Surviving by Disguising: Nature’s Game of Charades". Basics. New York Times. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
- IUNC Wild Cats Book. "Margay Fact." Big Cat Rescue. IUNC, n.d. Web. .
|Wikispecies has information related to: Margay|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Margay.|
- IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group: Margay Leopardus wiedii
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. North American Mammals: Leopardus wiedii
- Smithsonian Wild: Margay (Leopardus wiedii)
- Ecology of the Ocelot and Margay
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly included in the genus FELIS. Placed in the genus LEOPARDUS by Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 1993) and Jones et al. (1997), and in the genus FELIS by Jones et al. (1992). Some have suggested that LEOPARDUS WIEDII and LEOPARDUS TIGRINUS may be conspecific, whereas others have considered the differences between WIEDII and TIGRINUS to warrant generic distinction (see Wozencraft, in Wilson and Reeder 1993).