Tricky margay wildcat mimics its prey

07/26/2010

Scientists recently documented a most unusual wildcat behavior - something previously only known from tall tales and rumors. The beautiful margay (Leopardus wiedii) was observed mimicking the call of a small monkey, the pied tamarin, to lure them closer. Then…the margay pounces. The pied tamarin becomes the margay’s prey! Such vocal mimicry has been rumored to occur in jaguars and pumas, but this is the first documented case. The scientists published their observations in Neotropical Primates.

Maracaja copy
Margay/
Photo credit: Tófoli/Rohe

In 2005, biologists from Wildlife Conservation Society-Brazil and Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) saw a group of pied tamarins feeding in a fig tree in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. They then heard and observed a margay making a call that sounded like a tamarin baby. Tamarins travel in groups, so one of them – the sentinel – cried out, but four other tamarins went down from the tree to check out this strange sound of a baby tamarin. And that’s when the margay appeared on the tree trunk, ready to pounce. The sentinel issues a stern warning and the tamarins fled, evading the predatory cat – this time anyway.  The pied tamarin is an endangered species found in the Amazon rainforest.


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