The margay’s size resembles a domestic cat, but the similarities end there. At first glance you can see significant differences between domestic kitties and arboreal ocelots, and even a layman would realize that he is dealing with a different species of animal.
The margay’s fur is soft and thick. It has a yellowish, grey or brown colour and large dark spots, sometimes merging into dots or irregular lines. On the neck, however, the margay has straight stripes running from the head to shoulders.
A characteristic feature of the arboreal ocelot are its large eyes, in proportion almost owlish to the muzzle. The eyes look gimlet and take up most of the face. The big irises of the margay have shades of brown, and the pupils are narrow. Around them there is a black rim that extends wavy down the mouth and up to the forehead from the inner corners of the eyes.
The arboreal ocelot also has disproportionately large and wide paws, thanks to that even an adult margay looks like a young kitten that has to grow up to big paws. All four have a great tree grip from the very beginning, and the rear have a unique ability to rotate 180 degrees. Thanks to this, the margay is able to efficiently descend from the trees head down, grabbing the branches with the back paws. It moves in the same way as a squirrel, embracing the trunk of a tree with its whole body.
The margay’s tail is very long and muscular, accounting for about 70 percent of the length of the torso. It is useful for balancing on branches, and even for holding them. It has a black tip and many dark rings along its entire length.
The arboreal ocelot’s ears are quite large and round. At the back they are covered with black fur with a white spot in the middle.
The margay occurs in Mexico and South America, where it is active mainly at night. Its favourite place of residence is the rainforest, but it can also live in dry, foggy and riparian forests as well as on cocoa and coffee plantations.
It hunts almost exclusively on trees, catching birds and monkeys, but also uses ambushes, hiding on the ground. It often uses an aggressive sound mimicry for this purpose, which lures the victim into a trap. It is an unusual ability among cats to imitate sounds made by animals on which they hunt. Instead of following the victim, the arboreal ocelot likes to wait in hiding until right herbivore appears, using great camouflage and mimicry to kill.
The margay sometimes eats eggs and lizards or frogs. In order to facilitate digestion, it can also consume small amounts of plants, which are only an addition to the meat diet.
It is not without reason that the margay is also called the arboreal ocelot – it spends most of its life in the crowns of trees, and if it had enough victims, it would not have to go down at all. It moves on the ground only when it changes the hunting area in search of greater availability of prey.
The margay’s skills are extraordinary. It walks along horizontal branches with its head down, jumping very fast on its paws attached to the branch. It can soar in the crowns of trees at a distance of 4 meters and likes to hang from the branches holding with only one paw. It is often hanging on its hind legs, to have free front paws to hold and attack prey. The way it moves around the trees looks just like monkey tricks, and it is a representative of the Felidae family, an amazing cousin of a domestic cat.
The arboreal ocelot is an independent loner that is looking for the company of its own species only during the mating season. It uses aroma signals to arrange a meeting. In addition, females call the males with groaning, and they respond with a howl while shaking their heads from side to side. This is a very unique and unprecedented behaviour in cats.
Meetings of margays are held in no other place than in the crowns of trees. After a fruitful meeting, only one kitten is usually born, which is why the arboreal ocelot is called a species of low reproductiveness. Margays are serially monogamous, which means that they pair up for the mating season and during that time they spend days with a specific individual. After the period of sexual intercourse, they return to the solitary mode, and after a while they enter into a relationship with another individual. Males do not help in raising offspring, they leave before it is born.
The kitten is born blind and begins to observe the world only around the second week of life. From the very beginning, however, it has a clear pattern on the fur. As a mammal, it first feeds on its mother’s milk, and after about fifty days begins to try a new, meat diet that will stay with it until the end of its days.
The margay reaches maturity at about one year, but begins to enter into relationships with other arboreal ocelots only around the second year of life. The female can get pregnant at most once every two years.
The natural danger for the margay are other cats like ocelot, jaguarundi and northern tiger cat, because there is a lot of competition between them for prey and territory. Among these cats, there are often fights to death, and the largest of America’s small cats – the ocelot, has the biggest chance of surviving.
Once the skin removed from arboreal ocelots was very popular, so the hunters killed enormous quantities of this species. Now, people are killing margays mainly in retaliation for poultry hunting, although murders for the skin are still present.
The biggest threat to the arboreal ocelots, however, is cutting down their beloved forests, of which crowns they jump like monkeys. Trees are cut down for arable fields and pastures for ungulates.
Margays are also exposed to diseases and road accidents, and they reproduce very slowly in the wild and almost not at all in zoological gardens. Nevertheless, they are abducted from the natural environment for pet trade.
The arboreal ocelot’s population is close to the threat of extinction and continues to have a downward trend despite legal protection.
Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz
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