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Dolichotis patagonum [dol ih kO' tis pat uh gO' num]
The Patagonian cavy is one of the largest rodents in the world, with a height of about two feet, a length of about two feet, and a weight of up to 35 pounds. It has stiff, dense hair that is very fine in texture. The fur is grayish-brown above and whitish below, and there is a large white patch on the hindquarters.
Looking somewhat like a cross between a rabbit and kangaroo, the Patagonian cavy has hind legs that are slightly larger than the front, a long face, large eyes, and slightly pointed ears. It has four toes on its front feet and three on the back, and all toes are equipped with a sharp claw.
Distribution and Habitat
Native to the pampas of central and southern Argentina, the Patagonian cavy prefers arid grasslands and brushlands that have plenty of open space.
Habits and Behaviors
Furthering the rabbit-kangaroo look, the Patagonian cavy can walk normally (on all fours), hop like a rabbit, gallop, and even bounce on all fours. When startled, the cavy can leap six feet straight up, and can reach a speed of 35 mph when running.
Patagonian cavies communicate with each other through grunts, grumbles, and screams. They usually travel in mated pairs, with the male always trailing the female to guard against other males and predators, but will seasonally travel in groups of up to 70 individuals to freshly evaporated lakes where food is plentiful.
The Patagonian cavy is one of the few monogamous mammals in the world. Pairs usually breed two or three times in a single year. One to three young are born after a gestation period of about three months. The young, which are well developed at birth, are placed in communal den that may be home to the offspring of up to 15 breeding pairs. Adult pairs take turns visiting the den to care for their young; the mother can detect her own offspring by scent, and will chase off all other youngsters. The young are weaned after about two-and-a-half months, and reach sexual maturity at about six months. Patagonian cavies can live up to ten years in the wild.
As are most rodents, the Patagonian cavy is a vegetarian, with a preference for grasses and herbs.
The number of Patagonian cavies is declining, due to habitat destruction and competition with the introduced European hare, which feeds on many of the same plants as the cavy. It is not, however, currently listed as an endangered or threatened species.
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This page was last updated on June 15, 2017.