Paca

Agouti paca

TAXONOMY

Agouti paca (Linnaeus, 1766), Cayenne, French Guiana. Currently, five subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Gibnut; German: Tieflandpaka; Spanish: Jochi pintado, sari, borugo, guartinaja, guagua, tinaja, tepezcuintle, guanta, guardatinajas, tuza real, conejo pintado, picuru, lapa.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length 20-30.5 in (50-77.4 cm); tail 5-9 in (13-23 cm); weight 13-31 lb (6-14 kg). Head, back, and flanks either gray, brown, or reddish, depending on the subspecies. The fur is slick and shiny and there is no underfur. Underparts and cheeks are always pure white. Marks on the flanks may be either cream, pale grayish, or white. Whiskers prominent. The head of an adult paca is some 7-87.7 in (18-223 cm) long. Each incisor is nearly 0.2 in (5 mm) wide; no other forest-dwelling Neotropical rodent has incisors this big. To aid in escape from predators, the skin of the back of a paca is very loose and slips and tears easily over an under layer of thickened connective tissue. Wounds to such areas are reported to heal within days. Distinctively, their eyes shine a brilliant yellow when spotlit.

DISTRIBUTION

From southern Mexico to northern Argentina.

HABITAT

Primarily rainforest near streams, but also recorded from scrubby and seasonally dry habitats, mangrove swamps, gallery forests bordering streams, and tree thickets in public parks. Recorded up to 8,000 ft (2,500 m) where it overlaps with the mountain paca.

BEHAVIOR

Occurring in monogamous pairs that share a territory, but generally forage alone (although they may be seen together under an especially heavily fruiting tree). Animals may have up to four burrows within their home range. In places where food is abundant, home range size is around 8.6 acres (3.5 ha), with an activity core of some 1.5 acres (0.6 ha). Despite the use of urine and anal gland secretions as scent markers, home ranges are not exclusive and may overlap by up to 74%. Each animal may have several burrows. Males are most active in territory defense, first engaging in a contest of rumbling vocalizations and teeth chitterings. If this fails, they stand head to head and slash at each other with their large incisors. As part of their predator avoidance strategy, pacas habitually defecate in streams. Their sense of hearing and smell are acute.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Eat fruits of understory trees and shrubs and fallen fruits of taller trees. They have also been recorded as eating leaves, buds, flowers, and fungi.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Litter size is usually one (exceptionally two). Young are preco-cial, born furred, and with open eyes. They are able to run with the mother from an early age, and they are weaned at around six weeks, but may stay with the mother for up to a year afterwards. Gestation lasts 114-119 days. Inter-birth interval is around 190 days. Females generally breed seasonally, but will bear up to three litters if conditions allow.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Listed on CITES III (Honduras). Not threatened according to the IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Occasionally, they may become pests of agricultural crops. Often a mainstay for rural populations that hunt for meat, they are kept under the house in rural areas of Belize and Mexico and fed on kitchen scraps. Gibnut meat was served to Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Belize in 1985. ♦

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