The Tayra

The tayra (Eira barbara) is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae), which also includes otters, skunks and minks. It is the only species in the genus Eira. The tayra, also spelled “tiara”, is sometimes called “swamp or bush dog” and its Creole name is Haka. Tayras can be found in the neo-tropical forests of Central and South America, and ranges from Mexico, south to Bolivia and northern Argentina and also on the island of Trinidad. In these areas they live in tropical, deciduous and evergreen forests, secondary growth, fields and plantations. The elevation of their habitat ranges from the lowlands to about 2000 to 2400 m. Because the tayra is both terrestrial and arboreal, it has been found to live in hollow trees, burrows built by other animals and occasionally in tall grass. Despite their wide occurrence and relatively large size, surprisingly little is known about tayra reproduction, life span, home ranges or habits. This large, long-legged weasellike animal is the size of a medium sized dog, with a long, bushy tail and long neck ending in a robust head.

Tayras can be seen moving rapidly through the trees or on the ground. Both terrestrial and arboreal, they are very fast runners and despite their limited eyesight are skilled climbers as well. They have been reported to climb down smooth tree trunks from heights of greater than 40 meters.

Its head and body range from 600 to 700 mm in length and its tail length is 350 to 450 mm. Tayras have large hind feet varying in length from 80 to 90 mm with round, short ears that are about 35 to 40 mm long. Color varies with geographic range, but in general the tayra’s dark skin is covered by dense, short fur that is brown in color with a slightly paler head. The fur on its head changes to brown or gray as it ages. Usually it has a white, diamond shaped patch on its throat and chest. Tayras have long claws, pronounced canines and weigh 4 to 5 kg.


Despite their wide occurrence and relatively large size, surprisingly little is known about tayra reproduction, life span, home ranges or habits. Being small and secretive, Mustelids, among other groups of small carnivores, are often neglected by conservation programs which are usually aimed at larger, more charismatic species.
They are a diurnal species that are sometimes active at dusk or before dawn. Tayras usually travel alone or in pairs, however, they are occasionally seen in small groups of 3 to 4 individuals, the sexual distribution of which is unknown. In their forest habitats, tayras often appear inquisitive, moving their heads in an undulating, snakelike fashion to determine scents or sights. They can be seen moving rapidly through the trees or on the ground. Both terrestrial and arboreal, tayras are very fast runners and despite their limited eyesight are skilled climbers as well. They have been reported to climb down smooth tree trunks from heights of greater than 40 meters. Terrestrial locomotion is usually composed of erratic, bouncing movements with the back arched and the tail along the ground. Arboreal movements along horizontal branches are more fluid, and the tail is used as a balancing rod. A tayra may leap for considerable distances, run up rocky cliffs, and bound from branch to branch in the trees. It is usually silent, but when alarmed, the tayra gives a short, barking call and may snort, growl, and spit while seeking protection in a nearby tree. They have been known to give yowls, snarls or clicks when in groups.

Although classified as carnivores, tayras are omnivorous, with diets comparable to those of raccoons. It shows a preference for small mammals, the spiny rat in particular, but it will eat whatever is available, such as guinea pigs, mice, squirrels, agoutis and poultry. The tayra will also eat significant amounts of fruit, invertebrates and reptiles. It has also been shown that they will occasionally eat honeycomb when it is available.


The tayra is a large, long-legged weasel-like animal that is the size of a medium sized dog, with a long, bushy tail and long neck ending in a robust head. Color varies with geographic range, but in general the tayra’s dark skin is covered by dense, short fur that is brown in color with a slightly paler head. Usually it has a white, diamond shaped patch on its throat and chest.
Little is known about the tayra’s reproduction. However it is thought that gestation lasts for about 63 to 70 days with a litter size of 2 to 3 babies per season, each weighing about 74 to 92 grams. Newborns open their eyes in about 5 to 8 days and they nurse for 2 to 3 months. Some believe that the mating cycle is seasonal, with births occurring in March and July. Others believe that the tayra has monthly mating periods and is a non-seasonal breeder.

Being small and secretive, Mustelids, among other groups of small carnivores, are often neglected by conservation programs which are usually aimed at larger, more charismatic species.

Help is needed and you could make a difference by contributing to the conservation of small carnivores, through the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) World Conservation Union Small Carnivore Specialist Group. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Specialist Group or would like more information please visit their website the IUCN website at http://iucn.org

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