Plains viscacha

Lagostomus maximus

TAXONOMY

Lagostomus maximus (Desmarest, 1817), type locality unknown; possibly from pampas of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Vizcacha; French: Viscache, lièvre des pampas. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Large rodents with head and body length averaging over 19.7 in (500 mm). Tail length averages 6.9 in (175 mm) and total weight up to 19.8 lb (9 kg). Males tend to be larger than females by approximately 15% in body length and 30% in body weight. Individuals have large, broad heads, and males have a distinctive black mustache and stiff whiskers. Broad black and white stripes on face. Underparts are white and dorsal pelage ranges from gray to brown, depending upon soil color. The tail has stiff hairs, is bare ventrally, and provides support for sitting upright. Digits reduced to three on the hind foot.

DISTRIBUTION

Occurs in southern Paraguay, southeastern Bolivia, and Argentina.

HABITAT

Prefers grassland and steppe habitats at elevations below 9,840 ft (3,000 m). Areas around burrow systems are sparsely vegetated with piles of debris around openings located under bushes.

BEHAVIOR

Construct elaborate burrows that house successive colonies for decades. Single males defend burrow systems and are the dominant breeders. Variety of vocalizations and gestures are used during aggressive interactions among individuals. Members of colonies produce alarm calls and perform allogrooming.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feed at night on grasses and seeds. Heavy grazing alters the abundance and diversity of grass species. They are ecologically similar to North American prairie dogs. Almost 94% of diet is grass, resulting in severe grass cover depletion. Cattle and plains viscachas share the same diet.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Gestation 152 days, seasonal breeder with one litter per year in southern portion of range, no more than two litters per year in other ranges. Litter size is two.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUNC though extinction of local colonies as a result of eradication programs is common.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Considered a competitor with domestic species of livestock. Burrow system presents a potential threat to horses and cattle. Harvested for food and fur. In the past, pelts were exported. ♦

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