Hamilton Smith, 1842
The tayra (Eira barbara), also known as the tolomuco or perico ligero in Central America, irara in Brazil, san hol or viejo de monte in the Yucatan Peninsula, and high-woods dog (or historically chien bois) in Trinidad, 2 is an omnivorous animal from the weasel family Mustelidae. It is the only species in the genus Eira. There are at least nine subspecies.
Tayras have an appearance similar to weasels and martens, growing to a size of about 60 cm (23.6 in), not including a 45 cm (17.7 in) long tail. Most tayras have either dark brown or black fur with a lighter patch on its chest. The fur on its head changes to brown or gray as it ages. Tayras grow to weigh around 5 kilograms (11 pounds), ranging from 2.7 to 7.5 kg (6-16.5 pounds).3
The tayra, unlike other Mustelidae, does not display embryonic diapause, otherwise known as delayed implantation (this reproductive strategy in other mustelids delays embryonic development and allows the female to delay birth of offspring until environmental factors are favorable). The female gives birth to 2 to 4 altricial, black-coated young.
Tayras travel both alone and in groups during both the day and the night. They are expert climbers, and can leap from treetop to treetop when pursued; they can also run fast and swim well.
Tayras eat mainly rodents, but also consume carrion, other small mammals, reptiles, birds and fruits. They live in hollow trees, burrows in the ground, or terrestrial nests made of tall grass. Tayras are opportunistic eaters, hunting rodents and invertebrates, and climbing trees to get eggs and honey. In Central Brazil they are called "Papa Mel" (honey eater). They are attracted to fruit and can be found raiding orchards.
An interesting instance of caching has been observed among tayras: a tayra will pick unripe green plantains, which are inedible, and leave them to ripen in a cache, coming back a few days later to consume the softened pulp.
Tayras are playful and easily tamed. Indigenous people, who often refer to the tayra as "cabeza del viejo", or old man's head, due to their wrinkled facial skin, have kept them as household pets to control vermin. Sometimes, they attack domestic animals, such as chickens.
Wild tayra populations are slowly shrinking, especially in Mexico, due to habitat destruction for agricultural purposes. Though the species as a whole is listed as a Least Concern species, the northernmost subspecies, Eira barbara senex, is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
- Eira barbara barbara (northern Argentina, Paraguay, western Bolivia and central Brazil)
- Eira barbara biologiae (central Costa Rica and Panama)
- Eira barbara inserta (South Guatemala to central Costa Rica)
- Eira barbara madeirensis (west Ecuador and northern Brazil)
- Eira barbara peruana (the Andes in Peru and Bolivia)
- Eira barbara poliocephala (Guyana, eastern Venezuela and Brazil)
- Eira barbara senex (central Mexico to northern Honduras)
- Eira barbara senilis (northern Ecuador)
- Eira barbara sinuensis (Colombia and western Venezuela)
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- Cuarón, A. D., et al. 2008. Eira barbara. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. Downloaded on 02 June 2013.
- Nowak, Ronald M. (2005). Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. ISBN 0-8018-8032-7
- Emmons, L.H. (1997). Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-20721-8