What Is a Margay Cat?

by Martha Adams, Demand Media
    The margay looks like a small version of the ocelot.

    The margay looks like a small version of the ocelot.

    The small wild cats of the jungles and rainforests that stretch from Mexico to Brazil are grouped together in the genus Leopardus, including the margay (L. wiedii). All are rare, and some are endangered.

    Appearance

    In size the genus runs the gamut from the husky ocelot (L. pardalis) at 35 pounds down to the tiny kodkod (L. guigna) at 4 pounds. The margay falls in the middle at around 6 pounds—about the size of a domestic cat, but with longer legs. It has the round head of the ocelot, but is slighter in build. Its most striking feature, however, is the thick, plushy coat that is white to cream on the belly and heavily marked above with spots and blotches that have pale centers and dark edges.

    Habits

    Margays are semi-arboreal, meaning they spend a lot of time in the trees, and crepuscular—active at dawn and dusk. They prey on birds, reptiles, insects and small mammals, but will snack on fruit when it's available. They are extremely agile and can come down a tree trunk headfirst, an ability shared among cats only with the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) of Asia.

    Survival Status

    Due to habitat destruction as civilization consumes the wilderness, the margay is considered a threatened species. Because of its small size and low numbers, it is not hunted for the fur trade, but individuals have been smuggled across the U.S. border for the pet trade. This is unfortunate, as they make poor pets and the removal of any individual from the wild increases the danger of extinction to the species.

    Hybridization

    The Bristol cat is a hybrid of mysterious origins, but is thought to be a cross between the margay and the American domestic shorthair cat. They make an acceptable pet and command a high price because of their rarity, but they tend to "mule out," with such a low fertility rate that they are not considered a true breed of cat.

    About the Author

    Martha Adams has been a rodeo rider, zookeeper, veterinary technician and medical transcriptionist/editor. She traveled Europe, Saudi Arabia and Africa. She was a contestant on "Jeopardy" and has published articles in "Llamas" magazine and on the Internet. Adams holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

    Photo Credits

    • Chat margay ocelot du Panama image by Davy HILLER from Fotolia.com