Physical characteristics

An adult pacarana weighs from 22 to 33 lb (10-15 kg), with head and body length from 28 to 31 in (730-790 mm), plus a tail length of about 7.5 in (190 mm). The body is compact and heavily built, and the broad head is large in comparison to the body. The limbs are moderately short, and powerfully muscled. A fairly thick coat of coarse hair covers the body. The upperparts of the pelage are dark brown or blackish, with rows of whitish spots running the length of the body. A bushy set of long, grayish whiskers arises from the snout. The paws bear four digits apiece and as many claws.

The name of the species is derived from a Tupi Indian word meaning "false paca" referring to its overall resemblance to the paca, Agouti paca. The pacarana is the third largest living rodent, after capybaras (Family Hydrochoeridae) and beavers (Family Castoridae), its weight ranging from 22 to 33 lb (10 to 15 kg), head and body length from 29 to 31 in (730 to 790 mm), and an additional tail length of about 7.5 in (190 mm). The body is compact and heavily built, and the broad head is large in comparison to the body. The second and third vertebrae of the neck are fused. Those who have seen living pacaranas have compared them to small bears, huge guinea pigs, and porcupines robbed of their quills.

A pacarana bears a fairly thick coat of coarse hair over nearly its entire body, including the bushy tail, but excepting the nostrils and the soles of all four feet. The dorsal/upper parts of the pelage are dark brown or blackish, with four rows of whitish spots forming broken white stripes along its upper body length. Two or three rows of more randomly arranged spots decorate both flanks. The underparts are a lighter shade. Adding the final touch to the rough coat is a bushy set of long, grayish whiskers situated about midway on the upper snout. The individual whiskers can be as long as the head or longer. The ears are relatively short and round, the eyes are large, and the upper lip is deeply cleft.

All four feet are plantigrade, i.e., the entire heel rests on the ground as the animal walks or stands, and it walks with a waddling gait. Each of the four paws bears four digits, each digit fitted with a long, curved, heavy claw. The limbs are powerfully muscled and only moderately short, but the thick, hanging pelage may obscure the lengths of the limbs. All the features of the legs and feet would seem to indicate that pacaranas are diggers, but no one has ever seen a wild or a captive pacarana dig, although they may widen the entrances to their shelters with clawstrokes. They sometimes climb, and they can and will walk bipedally.

The cheek teeth of a pacarana grow continuously. The gnawing incisors are designed according to the basic rodent pattern, and they are broad and powerful.

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