Physical characteristics

The stout body of the coypu is highly arched. Its four legs are relatively short and hairless, with the two hind feet much longer than the two forelimbs. The hind feet each contain five digits, with webbed toes except between the

MLM ©2003

Coypu (Myocastor coypus). (Illustration by Michelle Meneghini)

fourth and fifth toes (the skinless fifth toe is used for grooming the fur), while the forefeet each have four long, flexible, non-webbed toes and a non-functioning thumb. Its strong claws are sharp. The tail is scaly and sparsely haired, except at and around the base. The coypu is often confused with the muskrat, but it is much larger and has a terete (cylindrical) tail as opposed to the laterally compressed (flat) tail of the muskrat.

Its coat consists of two types of hair: (1) an outercoat (or outer fur) that is soft, dense, reddish brown to yellowish brown in general coloration, containing long, coarse bristles (or guard hairs) that are coarser in texture on the back; and (2) an undercoat (or under fur) that is thick, dark gray in color, and denser on the abdomen, also called nutria (the fur that is valuable as pelts). Also on the lower parts of the body is the stomach fur, which is pale yellow and is not as coarse as that of the upper parts. The outercoat almost completely hides the undercoat.

The head is large and sturdy, and somewhat triangular in shape. The facial features include 20 strong teeth ([I1/1 C0/0 P1/1 M3/3] X 2 = 20). Its large, broad, and conspicuously orange-colored front incisors continue to grow, while the extremely high-crowned cheek teeth are semi-rooted and decrease in size as they converge toward the front. The coypu can close its lips behind the incisors, thus allowing it to gnaw while underwater. Its small black eyes are set near the upper part of the head. The coypu has small, rounded ears and well-developed auditory senses. Near the chin and around the nose and mouth is white fur, and on each side of the face are a few whiskers that are longer and more sensitive than the adjoining white fur. Fat glands (used for lubrication while grooming) are located at the corner of the mouth and near the anus.

A female coypu has four pairs of thoracic mammae. These are located high on the sides of the body so that the mother can lie on her stomach while in the nest as she nurses her

A coypu (Myocastor coypus) resting on log. (Photo by Animals Animals ©Peter Weimann. Reproduced by permission.)
A copyu (Myocastor coypus) chewing on vegetation. (Photo by Animals Animals ©Peter Weimann. Reproduced by permission.)

young, or to allow them to nurse while she is feeding in shallow water.

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