6 Fascinating Facts about the Margay: It Mimics Monkey Calls to Hunt Prey

Hangai Lilla

2024. June 26 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

This small wild cat is native to Central and South America, lives a solitary life in evergreen and deciduous forests, and is active at night. Nothing special so far, right? The key word is so far. In our opinion, this space creature-looking spotted cat is one of the most interesting wild cats.


Next is the presentation of the margay.

1.) That White Spot

If you regularly read our articles about wild cats or have a general interest in these creatures, you might have noticed that many spotted cats feature a distinctive marking on the back of their ears: a white spot on a black or dark background. This appears for example in tigers, kodkods, servals, and ocelots. Scientists believe these spots help the young follow their mother in the wild, while some theories suggest they also play a role in communication among the species.

2.) Speaking of the Ocelot

The margay and the ocelot can look deceptively similar, especially in pictures to an untrained eye, and it’s no surprise why! Phylogenetic studies show that the Leopardus genus (which includes the margay) diverged from the Felidae family 8 million years ago. It’s estimated that the ocelot and the margay became separate species 2.41 to 1.01 million years ago. The ocelot is somewhat bulkier, whereas the margay has a shorter head, larger eyes, and longer tail and legs.

If evolution is kind to them, they will get two thumbs soon and they could take over the world

3.) Climbing Trees Like a Margay

There are few other feline species as skilled at climbing trees as the margay. It spends most of its time in trees, hunting birds and monkeys. Similar to the clouded leopard, the margay can rotate its ankle joints 180 degrees, enabling its paw pads to turn inward and giving it an extraordinary grip on branches. This unique feature allows the margay to climb down trees headfirst, a skill only it and the clouded leopard possess. Furthermore, this small cat, weighing between 2.5-4 kg and measuring 50-80 cm in length, can leap horizontally up to 3.7 meters. When jumping, it spreads its limbs like a flying squirrel, and its long tail and proportionally large, padded paws aid in balance and landing.

4.) The Courtship Dance

During the estrus period, lasting 4-10 days, female margays attract males with long, whining calls. Males respond with roars or trills while rapidly shaking their heads side to side. This behavior is unique to margays and hasn’t been observed in other cat species.

Margay is as innocent as it looks, but it is also cunning

5.) Mimicking Prey Calls

A margay was observed mimicking the calls of a juvenile pied tamarin to hunt. This was the first predator in the New World tropics seen using this technique. Researchers recorded this in 2005, when an eight-member tamarin group was feeding in a tree. The margay imitated the tamarin’s call, prompting the sentinel to climb down to investigate the sound’s source. Realizing something was amiss, the sentinel alerted the group, but the familiar sounds confused them, leading some to descend from the tree to investigate. The margay then emerged from the foliage, walking towards the monkeys. Fortunately or not, the sentinel managed to sound the alarm again, urging the others to flee.

6.) Two is enough

Unlike other felines, the margay has only two mammary glands, commonly known as nipples. (Domestic cats typically have 6-8, but having as few as 4 or as many as 10 is normal.) Female margays usually give birth to a single kitten, with twins being rare. After mating, the male stays with the female for the approximately 80-day gestation period, accompanying her on hunts. Before the birth of the kitten, the male departs.

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