Leopardus wiedii



Common Name: Margay (or Tree Ocelot)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata)

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Leopardus (Felinae)

Species: wiedii

L. wiedii was named after Prince Maximilliem de Wied who first described an individual he encountered in a Brazilian expedition as a “long-tailed tiger-cat”.(1)

Habitat / Distribution

Margay can be found from Southern Mexico through Central America all the way down to Brazil and Paraguay.(6) Adults like to live mostly solitary lives, leading to low population densities throughout its range. Ocelot populations can negatively affect these already low population densities of Margays.(6) The larger Ocelot can outcompete the Margay and might even be predatory.

Margays like to spend a lot of their times in trees and are particularly well adapted for an arboreal life style compared to other small felines.(4) They are able to hunt prey through a web of tree branches, vines, and lianas. They are mostly associated with forested areas but can be found in shady overgrown agricultural areas. They frequent highly disturbed forested areas. While, they do like to spend a lot of time in trees they can also be found traveling and hunting on the forest bottom.(4) Often times they use hollowed out logs for dens sites.(2)

These solitary animals exhibit very large home ranges proportional to their body size. The size of these home ranges can vary from 10.95 km2 in Belize to 15.9 km2 in Brazil, which is incredibly spaced out.(2) It would be incredibly uncommon to find several of these guys hanging out together.


Margays don’t appear to be very picky with their diet. One 2007 study in particular identified 19 different food items.(7) Having a fairly arboreal lifestyle, it makes since that a major component of the Margay’s diet consists of arboreal mammals such as sloths and small monkeys like tamarins, and small arboreal birds.(2) But, small terrestrial mammals like mice, rats, and rabbits make up the majority. In addition amphibians and reptiles are occasionally preyed upon and rarely plants and insects are consumed.(2)(7) In general, small, nocturnal terrestrial and arboreal animals are the most likely targets for Margay consumption. 

Reproduction / Life Cycle

The estrous cycle lasts somewhere between 32 and 46 days in Margays, and females are in heat anywhere from 4-10 days. The gestation period lasts 81-84 days and most females give birth to 1 young per litter, rarely 2.(2) Breeding most likely occurs year round in the tropics and females probably give birth to an average of 5 children in a lifetime. (1)(2)

Young Margays open their eyes and begin to develop their canines around 20 days old and ready to leave their dens to explore around 5 weeks old.(2) The young kittens begin to eat solid food and stop nursing at around 8 weeks of age.(2) Margays reach sexually mature at 2 years old and females usually give birth to 1 litter every 1-2 years after that.(4) In captivity, Margays can grow to be 20 years old. (2)

Appearance & Behavior

Margays are stunning little wild cats that are slightly larger than a house cat. (4) At first glance the Margay is very similar in appearance to the better known and closely related Ocelot. However, the Margay is smaller in overall body size and has a much longer tail.(2) The tail of the Margay is longer than its back leg, which isn’t so in the Ocelot.(4) Also, relative to the Ocelot, the Margay has larger eyes and a shallower, smaller skull.(2) The paws are also big proportionately to the rest of the body. Another distinguishing feature is that the hair on the back of their necks grows backwards, slanting forward toward the head rather than back. Margays also only have 1 pair of nipples instead of two as in other Leopardus species.(2)

On average Margays average between 42.5-79 cm in length and weigh between 2.6-9 kg, with a tail length anywhere from 30-51 cm long.(4) The long tail probably serves to aid in balance, since the cat spends so much time in trees.

The exact coloring and patterning of the fur between individuals of this species is variable. But, the fur is a yellowish-brown to grayish brown color with rows of black rosettes and blotches and black lines on the head, neck and throat.(4)(5) The belly and underneath are an off-white.

Margays have large, flexible paws with long claws. They can turn their hind feet 180 degrees. These qualities make them the acrobat of the small cat world and the only cat that can travel back down a tree with its head first.(2) They are also lighter than other cats of similar size and have less muscle mass, which probably has to do with its mainly arboreal life style.(2)

These cats are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, with highest activity levels at night.(2) Their large eyes aid them in nighttime vision.(5) During the day they like to hang out on lianas and trees.(4) They have a great sense of smell and will squint when presented with an obnoxious odor or stop eating if feces is placed near their food. They can make many different sounds, including sounds that mimic their prey as a hunting tactic. Their threat display involves a slightly arched back, erect hair on mid-back and tail, and hind-paw wiping.(2)

Economic / Ecological Service

Margays are mainly found living in both evergreen and deciduous forests.(2) However, they can occasionally be seen in shaded coffee or cocoa plantations and are large fans of late secondary growth forests.(2) Because they make forests their homes, deforestation and conversion of forest to plantations and pastures pose huge threats for their survival.(6)

While deforestation is their greatest threat, poaching and illegal trade are also major threats to the species.(5) Skins, or pelts, of the Margay have been commercialized in the past; its estimated that over 100,000 pelts were traded in the 1970s and 80s.(6) Illegal trading of Margays is still a major threat, whether its for their pelts or as pets.(6) Many people try and domesticate them.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies the Margay as near threatened.(6) Their numbers are steadily declining and will are expected to decrease at even faster rate over the next 3 generations. Sadly, this feline is a slow reproducer and doesn’t reproduce well in captivity, so with a 50% kitten death rate in captivity, breeding programs will be little help if the population keeps declining.(5)

Recent Research

2009 observational studies revealed a very neat hunting strategy employed by Margays: they can mimic sounds made by their prey in order to attract them.(3) A Margay on the hunt 15 m above the ground in lianas surrounding fig trees, close to a group of Tamarins, was observed to make a call emulating that of a crying Tamarin pup. This fake cry caught the attention of the adult Tamarins and had them searching for its location.(3) Even though in this particular observed instance all the Tamarins escaped, this strategy in general probably increases the likelihood of the Margay getting to eat monkey for dinner.

This was an exciting observation because it confirmed many Amazon woodsmen and mestizo indian’s claims that Neotropical cats attracted prey by mimicking the vocalizations of the prey species they are pursuing.(3) 

Personal Interest

Small wild cats like the Ocelot and the Margay have fascinated me ever since I had to do a science project in the 5th grade over the Ocelot. I created a life-sized paper mâché model for the project and subsequently tried to convince my mom that I needed one as a pet.

Literature Cited

Please note that the following references may have either been removed or relocated by the webpage owners since the time this student report was created.

  1. Bertrand, A. “Margay” Feline Conservation Federation. 2007. Web. 30 May 2013. <>
  2. de Oliveira, T.G. “Leopardus wiedii” Mammalian Species. 1998. No. 579:1-6.
  3. de Oliveira Calleia, F., Rohe, F., Gordo, M. “Hunting Strategy of the Margay (Leopardus wiedii) to Attract the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor)” Neotropical Primates. 2009. 16(1):32-34.
  4. “Margay (Leopardus wiedii)” ARKive. 29 May 2013. Web 30 May 2013. <>
  5. “Margay Facts” Big Cat Rescue. 2008. Web. 30 May 2013. <>
  6. Payan, E., Eizirik, E., de Oliveira, T., Leite-Pitman, R., Kelly, M. & Valderrama, C. 2008. Leopardus wiedii. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2.<>. Downloaded on 30 May 2013.
  7. Wang, E. “Diets of Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), Margays (L. wiedii) and Oncillas (L. tigrinus) in the Atlantic Rainforest in Southeast Brazil” Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment. 2002. Vol. 37(3): 207-212)


Please note that the following links may have either been removed or relocated by the webpage owners since the time this student report was created.


Big Cat Rescue

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species