Cats, tigers, lions, panthers… we all know big cats, but what about the small ones? Do you know who are the caracal, the jaguarundi and the margay? Read on to meet them.
WHAT IS A FELINE?
Maybe you have a cat (Felis silvestris catus) at home, but have you ever thinked about what it has in common with a tiger? The truth is that a lot: the similarity among all species of felines is extraordinary and the classification of the smallest ones is difficult .
Felines are the most specialized carnivorous mammals. They live across Eurasia, Africa and America, from deserts to alpine heights. Most are solitary, big climbers (except the larger ones) and many good swimmers.
With round face and short snout, felines have developed specialized canine teeth to cut meat. They have 5 toes on their front paws and 4 in the back paws, with a curved retractable claw in each to grab prey. Retracted in the rest position, the claws are kept well sharpened. The pads of the feet, surrounded by hair, help them to be silent while walking.
Felines have very acute senses, from a good night vision, good sense of hearing and smell and sensory whiskers .
THE CARACAL: THE BEST JUMPER
The caracal (Caracal caracal) lives in Africa and western, central and southern Asia, in semi-desert areas and savannah. It is also known as desert lynx, but is more related to other cats (such as serval and the African golden cat) than with the lynx. It has medium size (60-90 cm long); its lynx appearance is mainly due to hair brushes in his ears, the longest and widest of all felines. Its usefulness is unclear, maybe they can improve hearing, ward off insects or highlight facial expressions as a system of communication between peers. Indeed, its name comes from the Turkish word Karakulak, literally “black ears”.
Their fur is usually brown or reddish and blotchy white belly, although there are melanic individuals (skin and coat with lots of black pigment melanin) as found in other felines, such as the famous black panther, which actually is a melanic leopard ( Panthera pardus ).
Their habits are mostly nocturnal and solitary. The most notable ability of the caracal is their jumps up to 3 meters vertically and catching birds in flight. It is also good climber, so it can prey on nests in trees. Its other dams are small antelopes, rabbits, rodents, etc. and poultry, so it is persecuted for this reason.
Watch a caracal jumping and catching a bird in flight:
According to the IUCN Red List is not generally considered in danger, but as “least concern”, although the Asian subspecies (Caracal caracal schmitzi) has suffered a serious setback. In addition to hunting, habitat destruction is the main threat of the caracal.
JAGUARUNDI: THE RAREST ONE
The jaguarundi or eyra cat (Herpailurus yagouarondi) is distributed throughout the southern United States to South America, in habitats such as tropical forests, wetlands and arid shrublands.
It has small size (9kg), and it seems more a puma or a weasel, with long legs and short tail and ears. The coat is uniform, without spots or stripes, with colors ranging from black, gray, light brown or reddish. Even in the same litter, the pups may have different hues. The dark furs are more common in wooded areas, while clear furs in drier environments.
Unlike other cats of its size, its territories are quite large and are mainly terrestrial, although it moves smoothly through the trees. Their prey are small mammals and birds, but can also hunt on reptiles, amphibians and fish caught in the river banks. It can jump two meters and as the caracal, catch their prey in the air.
Watch the movements and techniques of a jaguarundi hunting from 9:55 minute:
Just like the caracal, it is considered as “least concern “by the IUCN, although populations are smaller than initially thought, since being diurnal is an easily observable species. The threats are the same: prosecution for killing poultry and habitat loss and fragmentation. Fortunately his fur has no commercial value.
MARGAY: THE BEST CLIMBER
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is distributed throughout Central and South America in forested areas. Similar to ocelots, has a size and weight (40-60 cm long and 3.5 kg) smaller than them. The spotted coat helps them blend in with the environment. These spots are called rosettes and cover the entire body except the head . Each individual has his own pattern of spots, like our fingerprints.
The most striking of margay are their big eyes and tail, very long (up to 70% of their body size). These are adaptations to their nocturnal habits and extreme agility to move through the trees, where it spends most of the time. Their prey are birds, small monkeys, small mammals, lizards, tree frogs and even insects.
The margay special ability is that it can vertically go down tree trunks, with its head down like squirrels do. This is possible because they can rotate 180 degrees the rear ankles. The only other feline able to do the same: is the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). This feature, along with special claws for climbing and clinging to the branches, allow them to move through the trees with the agility of a monkey: they can even hold on to a branch with only one leg. They are therefore the best climbers among cats.
Like caracals and jaguarundis, margays are solitary and they meet only when they have to mate.
The margay is classified by the IUCN as “near threatened “and their populations are declining. Unlike jaguarundi, it is hunted for its beautiful fur and for use as pets illegally. The destruction and fragmentation of habitat (forest conversion into farmland) are the other major threat to the margay, who does not tolerate humanized habitats.
We finish the post with images of margay in action from 1:22 minute:
- Clutton-Brock, Juliet et al. 2002. Animal. Pearson Education
- Caracal (IUCN)
- Caracal (DeAnimalia)
- Jaguarundi (IUCN)
- Jaguarundi (EOL)
- Margay: master of the trees
- Margay (IUCN)
- International Society for Endangered Cats (Canada)
- Cover photo Aaron John Curtis