Physical characteristics

Except for size and mass, there is a great similarity in the external features between the two cane rat species. The de scription here concentrates mainly on the greater cane rat for which more information is available. They are heavily built with a head that looks small for the body, including small ears and a squarely cut muzzle. The muzzle is used as a pad when they butt each other. When panicking in captivity, they will also ram the walls of the enclosure with the muzzle. The body is covered with spiny hairs that are firm, sharply pointed yet supple, and varies in color from a speckled yellowish brown to a speckled grayish brown. The lips, chin, and throat are predominately white, with a brown pellage mottled with white on the ventral surface. The skin is very weak and tears easily, however, it also heals easily. The dark-brown tail tapers and is covered with short, bristly hair. When caught by the tail, it can easily be broken off. In adults, the genital area is an orange color. The legs are strong, the feet well padded. The front feet have five digits, the first one being rudimentary and the fifth one small. The hind feet have four larger digits, the first one being absent and the fifth one small. All the available digits are strong and possess strong, powerful, and fairly straight claws.

Cane rats are the second largest rodents in Africa, surpassed in size and mass only by the porcupine Hystrix

The greater cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus) is an excellent swimmer. (Photo by Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Cobris. Reproduced by permission.)

africaeaustralis (26.4-28.6 lb; 12-13 kg). Cane rat males are much larger than females. The greater cane rat is about twice the size of the lesser cane rat.

The dental formula is (I1/1 C0/0 P1/1 M3/3) X 2 = 20. The two upper and two lower incisor teeth are broad, heavily built, and chisel shaped. The bright orange enamel layer covers only the incisors on the front, while the rest is dentine. The upper incisors are deeply grooved longitudinally on the outer surface. Regardless of the enormous incisors, there is no record of people being bitten by wild cane rats when handling them. They will rather make frantic efforts to escape, a process in which they may injure themselves badly.

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