Mountain cavy

Microcavia australis

SUBFAMILY

Caviinae

TAXONOMY

Microcavia australis (I. Geoffroy and d'Orbigny, 1833), Patagonia, near lower part of Rio Negro, Argentina.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Desert cavy; Spanish: Cuis chico.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length averages 8.2 in (210 mm), weight 12.3 oz (350 g). Males are somewhat larger than females. Dorsal pelage is agouti mixed with yellow and brown, and ventral side paler. Hair around the eye appears as a ring. Individuals are tailless, have clawed digits.

DISTRIBUTION

Occurs primarily in Argentina and portions of southern Chile.

HABITAT

Occurs at lower elevations than related species in arid and semiarid habitats; a desert specialist. In portions of its range, it occurs in more mesic, forested habitats. Groups live in burrow systems.

BEHAVIOR

Diurnal, live in burrows, and form colonies. Colonies sizes of up to 38 individuals in one burrow system have been observed. Social structure is based on a linear male dominance hierarchy, with aggressive interactions among males. Colony stability is habitat dependent. Three types of vocalizations include a low pitched "tsit" for alarm, series of squeaks during mating and social grooming, and a high-pitched shriek emitted when afraid. During breeding and play, hops and other body postures are observed.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Varied herbivorous diet consisting of leaves, seeds, grass, and other types of vegetation; browse and climb.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Males are promiscuous and breed with multiple females. Multiple litters averaging three offspring per litter are produced each year, and the average gestation period is 54 days. Young are precocial.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Common, and not threatened or endangered throughout its range.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Adapts well to humans and is considered an agricultural pest in some areas. Sometimes used as food by humans. ♦

H Microcavia australis H Cavia aperea H Galea musteloides

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