The tayra, also known as the tolomuco, perico ligero, motete, irara, san hol, viejo de monte and high-woods dog, is both a terrestrial and arboreal mustelid, and is found in Central and South America. They are genetically close to the Martes genus, and are adapted for a semi-arboreal lifestyle just like true martens.(1)
The unusually long, monkey-like limbs and the short, wrinkly fur on head and neck distinguishes the Tayra from all other mustelids. In colouration, tayras usually have dark brown to black fur; which is relatively uniform across the body, limbs, and tail, except for a yellow or orange spot on the neck. Some tayras have pale heads and can either have or lack these spots. Albino or yellowish individuals exist, but they are not as common.(2)
Tayras tend to dwell in hollow trees, or burrows built by other animals in tropical deciduous and evergreen forests, secondary growth, and plantations.(3)(6)
Tayras are solitary and usually travel alone, but have occasionally been observed in pairs up to 3 or 4 individuals. They are expert climbers—using their long tails for balance, and being capable of leaping great distances from tree to tree. On the ground they have an erratic, bouncing gallop while moving at high speeds.(3)(4)(5)
An omnivore, the tayra is fond of juicy fruit, but is also an effective hunter; killing prey up to the size of a small antelope. They have relatively poor eyesight and primarily hunt by scent; only giving chase once prey is located, rather than stalking or ambushing.(7) They are known to hunt rodents, small mammals, birds, lizards, and invertebrates; also climbing trees to get fruit and honey.(2)(8)
Possible prospective thinking
Tayras have been observed to accurately harvest and store unripe green plantains (which are inedible), then return a few days later to consume the fruit once ripe. This suggests they may be capable of prospective thinking, which was previously believed to only be a trait in primates and birds.(9)
Body length: 56–71 cm / 22–28 in (males)
Tail length: 37–46-cm / 15–18 in (males)
Weight: 2.7–7.0 kg / 6.0–15.4 lb (males)
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), up to 22 years (captivity)
Range: From southern Mexico to the northern half of South America.
Conservation status: Least concern
- E. b. barbara
- E. b. biologiae
- E. b. inserta
- E. b. madeirensis
- E. b. peruana
- E. b. poliocephala
- E. b. senex
- E. b. senilis
- E. b. sinuensis
- Proulx, Gilbert, and Keith B. Aubry. “The” Martes complex”–an opportunity to bring together marten, fisher, sable, wolverine, and tayra biologists.” Canadian Wildlife Biology & Management 3.1 (2014): 30-33.
- Presley, Steven J. “Eira barbara.” Mammalian species 2000.636 (2000): 1-6.
- Reid, F. 1997. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeastern Mexico. Oxford University Press.
- Mares, N., R. Ojeda, R. Barquez. 1989. Guide to the Mammals of Salta Province, Argentina. University of Oklahoma Press.
- Kavanau, J. Lee. “Locomotion and activity phasing of some medium-sized mammals.” Journal of Mammalogy 52.2 (1971): 386-403.
- Nowak, Ronald M., and Ernest Pillsbury Walker. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Vol. 1. JHU press, 1999.
- Galef Jr, Bennett G., Russell A. Mittermeier, and Robert C. Bailey. “Predation by the tayra (Eira barbara).” Journal of Mammalogy 57.4 (1976): 760-761.
- Defler, Thomas R. “Notes on interactions between the tayra (Eira barbara) and the white-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons).” Journal of Mammalogy 61.1 (1980): 156-156.
- Soley, Fernando G., and Isaías Alvarado-Díaz. “Prospective thinking in a mustelid? Eira barbara (Carnivora) cache unripe fruits to consume them once ripened.” Naturwissenschaften 98.8 (2011): 693-698.
- Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Eira barbara in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.