I like cats. Wait, that’s a lie. I love cats. Anyone who knows me at all knows that that’s true. I did a big project in fourth year undergrad on big cats, and I recently finished writing a novel about cats. But what I am trying to do on this blog is focus on animals that people may not of heard of or don’t know a lot about. So what I don’t want to do is write posts about tigers, lions or cheetahs, things that have been written about over and over. If you want to learn about those guys it’s easy enough to look them up online or watch Planet Earth or something. That being said, I’ve been wanting to write a post about a felid for some time.
So instead of writing about one of the charismatic big cats, I’ve chosen a less well known cousin of theirs, the margay. Margays are small spotted cats that live in the rainforests of Central and South America. They weigh up to 4 kg, and have a body length up to 51 centimetres. Margays are brown with black spots. The ears are black with white circles on the back of each ear. Here’s a picture of one that looks pretty grumpy. You can just see a little bit of the white circle on it’s right ear.
Margay’s are adept climbers, and can spend almost their entire lives in the tree tops. This cat’s ankles can twist up to 180 degrees, an incredible show of flexibility. The margay is one of two feline species that are agile enough to climb down a tree head first (the other one is the clouded leopard). These guys are so adapted to tree life that they can hold onto tree branches equally well with their front and back feet, and have been observed hanging form branches with only one foot. Another crazy thing the margay can do is leap 3.7 meters horizontally, which it uses to move through the trees chasing prey.
The most interesting fact about the margay has only been recently observed. The margay’s main prey are small arboreal animals, like birds, lizards, squirrels and tree frogs. The margay sometimes even hunts monkeys, and has a pretty incredible way of doing so. A group of researchers observed a margay imitating the distress call of a baby tamarin. This caused the nearby group of adult monkeys to come to the rescue of the baby tamarin. Unfortunately for them, all that was waiting for them was a hungry kitty. Although the margay was not successful in catching a tamarin, the attempt is still a remarkable feat of intelligence and vocal ability.
Margays are typically antisocial, like most cats, and only come together to breed. Unlike most cats, the margay gives birth to a single kitten. Unfortunately for conservation efforts, these kittens have mortality rates of fifty percent. Margays also do not breed well in captivity, further compounding species conservation.
I’m a pretty big fan of the margay. Sure, they might not have the presence of a lion or tiger, but they are nonetheless just as interesting. Or more so. That’s really up to you to decide. But at the very least you read to the bottom of this post, so they’ve got to have piqued your interest somewhat!
Cover image By Malene Thyssen (User Malene) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,