Marvel at the only extant mustelid species in the genus Eira!
The Tayra (Eira barbara) is an omnivore that can be found fairly widespread through out Central and South America. While it is in the Mustelid family, it is genetically distinct enough from weasels and other mustelids as to have its genus all to itself. Because of its wide range, spanning a number of different countries and languages, it has many names. In Trinidad, it is called chien bois (which it shares with the bush dog). In Central America, it is perico ligero, viejo de monte, san hol and tolomuco. It is called irara in Brazil and motete in Honduras.
Tayras are large-ish mustelids, growing up to 28 inches (71 cm) in body length with a long busy tail. Adult males can weigh up to 15.4 pounds (7 kg), with females being slightly smaller. Their coats are dark brown in the body and tail, with paler fur on their head and neck. Sometimes Tayras have a small white patch on their chest. They have strong claws, more adapted to climbing trees than they are to digging in the ground. Their snouts are a little longer than other mustelids of similar size, and they have small rounded ears.
Tayras are most active during the day, and they use their keen sense of smell to track down a variety of prey. They hunt small mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds, and they also climb trees to eat fruit and honey. They have even been observed picking green plantains and burying them until they ripen, then returning to eat them. They don’t typically swim, but they can, and when they travel to different parts of their large territories they will usually do it at night.
There is no specific breeding season for Tayras, and females can go into estrus more than once a year. They do not delay implantation of fertilized embryos, and therefore can have up to three litters in a single year. After a 65-day gestation period, females will give birth to a litter of 2-3 kits. The kits are born helpless, but they will be weaned by the time they are 100 days old. They will stay with their mother for up to ten months, learning hunting and foraging techniques from her before striking out on their own.
Tayras are actually kept as pets, and there are historical records of indigenous people commonly using them to control pest populations. Tayras have also been known to raid chicken coops, but it’s not a widespread problem, and they maintain a healthy overall population. There are currently seven recognized subspecies:
- Eira barbara barbara
- Eira barbara inserta
- Eira barbara madeirensis
- Eira barbara peruana
- Eira barbara poliocephala
- Eira barbara senex
- Eira barbara sinuensis
Source for all images used in this post.