A beautifully patterned small cat, somewhat larger than a large house cat, the margay varies in colour from tawny yellow to greyish brown, and the coat is marked with rows of dark spots and open rosettes. The head, neck and throat bear black lines, and the backs of the ears are black with a central white spot. The underparts are whitish, and the long, rather bushy tail is marked with dark rings. The fur of the margay is relatively thick and soft, and, unusually, grows ‘reversed’ on the back of the neck, where it slants forwards. The margay shows much individual variation in coat pattern, and a number of subspecies are recognised. The male and female margay are similar in size and appearance.

Often confused with the closely related ocelotLeopardus pardalis, the margay can be distinguished by its smaller size, more slender build, proportionately large eyes, and the longer tail, which, unlike in the ocelot, is longer than the hindleg. The margay can also be difficult to distinguish from the oncilla, or little spotted cat (Leopardus tigrinus), from which it differs by its slightly larger size, its larger, less solid spots, and the backward-growing fur on the neck .

Biology Edit

The margay is largely arboreal, although it will also hunt and travel on the ground. An agile and acrobatic climber, its broad feet, flexible toes and large claws give a secure grip, and the long tail aids balance. In addition, the hind feet can rotate inwards through 180°, allowing the margay to turn the feet to grip a tree trunk, and making it the only cat capable of climbing headfirst down vertical trees. In addition, the margay is able to hang onto branches by the hindfeet while manipulating an object in the front feet. Usually active at night, resting in a tree or a vine tangle during the day, the margay mainly hunts small arboreal mammals and birds, but will also take reptiles, some insects and fruit, and sometimes larger prey such as young deer or agoutis. Adult margays are solitary.

The margay may breed year-round in tropical areas, although breeding may be more seasonal elsewhere. The female usually gives birth to a single young, or sometimes to twins, in a den in a hollow log or burrow. The gestation period is unusually long for a small cat species, lasting up to about 84 days, and the young are relatively large at birth. The young margay, which is fully spotted, opens its eyes at about two weeks, and begins to leave the den at about five weeks. Weaning takes places at around eight weeks, but the margay does not reach adult size until nearly a year, and usually does not begin to breed until two to three years old . A female margay is thought to produce a litter only once every two years. Lifespan in captivity has been recorded as up to 24 years.

Range and Habitat Edit

The margay occurs from northern Mexico, through Central America, and into South America, east of the Andes, as far south as northern Argentina and Uruguay. There is one record of the species from Texas, but its presence in the United States is uncertain.

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 occurs in a range of forest types, and appears to be less tolerant of human settlement and altered habitat than other species such as the ocelot, although it may occur in disturbed areas with sufficient tree cover 

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