Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the January 11, 2015 Newsletter issued from Río Lagartos, on the north-central coast of Yucatán, MÉXICO

Our spider monkey picture isn't the only hastily snapped and poorly focused image of a very interesting mammal taken this week. Tuesday morning, in the extreme northeastern corner of Yucatán State, we were hiking the little-used dirt road into El Zapotal, an isolated protected area administered by the important Mexican environmental group Pronatura, when Diego was first to spot, maybe a hundred yards (meters) up the road, what's shown below:


"¡Tayra!" Diego let us know, though neither he nor I had ever seen a Tayra in other than books. With its black body and white head and neck it couldn't have been much else. Quickly the animals sensed our presence and scampered off the road, giving us a side view of their very low-strung bodies and long, thick tails, as shown in my even blurrier shot below:


Tayras, EIRA BARBARA, can be found in Mexico's southern half, except in the highlands, and all the way south to northern Argentina. Being distributed over such a large area, they're known locally by many names, but in the Yucatan the Spanish name Viejo de Monte normally is used, more or less meaning "Old Man of the Woods."

Tayras are omnivores, but they hunt, too, and can kill animals larger than themselves. In northern Argentina they've been seen chasing a brocket deer for hours, and when they caught it they began eating it while the animal still was alive. They climb trees and catch monkeys, squirrels and lizards, as well as smaller prey such as insects.

As you might guess from their short legs and long bodies, Tayra are members of the Weasel Family, the Mustelidae, in which also are found otters, badgers, martens, ferrets, minks and wolverines. Over their large distribution area, nine subspecies have been recognized. Our Yucatan ones are Eira barbara ssp. senex, occurring from Mexico to northern Honduras.