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Mr. Tayra: The Old Man of The Mountain

You may be lucky enough to catch sight of this spirited, weasel-like animal frolicking in the treetops or racing around on the ground

 Although they are funny and cute, they are hunters and can kill animals as big as agoutis

datoThe tayra, known in the Yucatan Peninsula as viejo de monte (old man of the mountain) or cabeza del viejo (old man’s head) is similar to a weasel with shorter legs and a long body. Their name comes from their light colored wrinkled face. The rest of the body is covered in dark brown or black fur and a small spot on the chest. They range from 60-70 cm in length, plus their long bushy tail. The females are smaller than the males, and the latter have more muscle mass.

This solitary mammal can be found in most parts of Southern and Central America, Brazil, parts of Argentina and Mexico.

Tayras prefer to live in subtropical forests, and they are just as quick in agile in the treetops as they are on the ground. Since they spend a lot of time in trees, they are equipped with sharp curved nails and a long tail for balance. They have sharp canine teeth, and poor eyesight, but are guided by their sense of smell. Tayras are omnivores, and hunt rodents, small mammals, birds, lizards, agouti, insects, fruit and honeycomb. They are smart enough to hide unripened fruit and come back later when it is ready to eat; this act is called ripening caching.

The tayra females take care of their young alone, usually producing to one to three offspring. The babies are born blind, covered with fur, with closed ears and are completely dependant on mom. She starts to teach them how to hunt at three months. Indigenous people are known to have kept tyras as pets, as they are playful, silly animals that also provide rodent control. However, others see them as a pest to crops and chickens. Ecologically, these animals play an important role in the regeneration of the forests as seed dispersers. The tayra population is shrinking in Mexico due to habitat deforestation.

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