The margay, also called the tigrillo or tiger cat (Leopardus wiedii), is a small species of wild cat native to the rain forests of Central and South America.
The margay is about the size of a domestic house cat; 2 feet tall at the shoulders, about three feet in over-all length, and weighs from five to ten pounds. The predominant color of its fur is gray to golden brown with a white underbelly; the fur is also spotted, with many of the spots large and in differing shapes, their hollows filled with brown. Unlike other cats, margays have a distinctive "whorl" of fur between their shoulder blades.
The hind feet are also constructed to be able to turn a full 180o, enabling the margay to descend from trees head-first; they have also been seen to hang from trees with one foot while stretching for branches barely within reach.
Diet and behavior
Margays feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles; it has also been known to eat eggs and fruit. Recently, it has been discovered that it can imitate the calls of monkeys and other animals in order to lure the prey closer. Fabio Rohe, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, did extensive studies on margay behavior in the Brazilian rain forest in 2005, which included the imitation of distress calls of pied tamarin monkey babies by a margay near a troop of tamarins.
Margays are nocturnal, and spend most of their time within the trees. Mating occurs throughout the year, with females giving birth to one or two kittens after a four-month gestation.
Margays live within the dense forested regions of Central and South America; occasionally they are seen near plantations as well. Originally found as far north as southern Texas, timber harvesting and the fur trade reduced its range to the tropical rain forests. Its estimated numbers - about 10,000 - place it in a threatened status.