Cuniculus taczanowskiimountain paca

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Geographic Range

Cuniculus taczanowskii is found in the higher elevation mountain ranges of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. (Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

Habitat

Mountain pacas live at elevations of 2000 to 3500 meters with most individuals found between 2000 and 3050 meters. They are terrestrial but live near rivers or swampy areas in dense forest thickets. They often use water to escape when in danger as they are good swimmers. They are nocturnal and spend the daytime in underground burrows they construct which are up to 5 meters deep. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; IUCN, 2006; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996; The National Academies Press, 1991)

  • Range elevation
    2000 to 3500 m
    6561.68 to 11482.94 ft

Physical Description

Mountain pacas are large rodents, resembling large guinea pigs with an average weight of 9 kg and a length of 70 cm. Females are slightly smaller than males. They have short legs and rotund bodies with large heads and eyes. The skull is easily recognized, with an exceptionally large zygomatic arch. Pelage is red-brown to chocolate brown with two to seven white spots on the flanks; the young are born with this pelage as well. Mountain pacas have similar pelage to their close relative, Cuniculus paca, but with a denser undercoat to withstand the colder temperatures in the mountains. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; IUCN, 2006; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996; The National Academies Press, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    6 to 12 kg
    13.22 to 26.43 lb
  • Range length
    60 to 82 cm
    23.62 to 32.28 in
  • Average length
    70 cm
    27.56 in

Reproduction

Mountain pacas have a monogamous mating system, although males and females live alone. Mates live in separate dens which are normally in close proximity. Other mating behaviors are unknown. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

Mountain paca reproduction is not well studied, but is thought to be like that of Cuniculus paca (pacas) and much of the information below is based om that species. Pacas breed year round with a gestation period of around 118 days, and can give birth to two litters per year. A single offspring is usually produced with twins being rare. Young weigh 450 to 800g at birth, growing quickly to maturity at age of 1. Pacas are weaned at about 3 months old and females experience a post-partum estrous. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    Mountain pacas give birth up to two times each year.
  • Breeding season
    Seasonality of mating is not known in mountain pacas.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Range gestation period
    100 to 130 days
  • Average gestation period
    118 days
  • Average weaning age
    3 months
  • Average time to independence
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Like other mammals, female mountain pacas invest heavily in their offspring through gestation, lactation, and other care of the young. Male parental investment is not known in mountain pacas. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little data on wild lifespan of mountain pacas and there are few in captivity. A lifespan of 12.5 years was recorded in the wild. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    12.5 (high) years

Behavior

Mountain pacas are nocturnal and solitary animals. They live in burrows they construct in clay soils along river banks. Mountain pacas are found most frequently in dense forest, but are sometimes seen in open areas. Because of their size, they make a lot of noise when walking and are easily found by predators. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; IUCN, 2006; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996; The National Academies Press, 1991)

Home Range

Mountain pacas have small home ranges which usually overlap with the home range of their mate. Mated pairs in the closely related species Cuniculus paca will jointly defend their home ranges. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Mountain pacas are not highly social animals and few vocalizations are known. They sometimes bark and grind their teeth. Like most mammals, they probably use chemical cues in communication. (Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

Food Habits

Mountain pacas are opportunistic frugivores. They feed primarily on fruits and nuts, sometimes eating small grains. They often bring their food to a central midden in their large, fur-lined cheek pouches. Mountain pacas are important seed dispersal agents of many fruiting tree species. (Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Mountain pacas avoid predation by being nocturnal and cryptically colored. Their brown, spotted pelage allows them to blend in with the forest undergrowth. They are also good swimmers and usually escape to the water or their den when being chased by a predator. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Mountain pacas are important seed dispersers in their forested habitats. They prey mainly on fruit and nuts and will carry them in their cheek pouches to other locations where they then eat or drop them, causing dispersal of the plant seed. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Mountain pacas are hunted extensively for food. Hunts occur at night with spotlights and with dogs by day. The meat is veal-like and fetches high market prices. Paca farms have been suggested as a sustainable and economically viable business. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Mountain pacas cause few problems for humans. They have been known to cause some crop damage to fruit and nut crops in some areas. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996; The National Academies Press, 1991)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Mountain pacas are listed as "low risk" by the IUCN. In some areas they are rare because of hunting pressures, in other areas populations are high, up to 90 per square km. Reserves protect mountain pacas from hunting in some areas. (Donegan, et al., 2004; Eisenberg and Redford, 1992; Emmons, 1990; IUCN, 2006; Lorentsen, 2005; Nowak, 1999; Ojasti, 1996; The National Academies Press, 1991)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Cody Krause (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Donegan, T., B. Huertas, E. Briceno, J. Arias, I. Camargo, M. Donegan. 2004. "Threatened Species of Serrania de los Yariguies Expedition" (On-line). Colombian EBA Project. Accessed October 17, 2006 at http://www.proaves.org/IMG/pdf/Yariguies_Report_English-2.pdf.

Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 1992. Mammals of the Neotropics, The Central Neotropics Volume 3. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Emmons, L. 1990. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

IUCN, 2006. "Agouti taczanowskii" (On-line). International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Accessed October 17, 2006 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/700/all.

Lorentsen, R. 2005. "Mountain paca" (On-line image). European studbook programmes. Accessed October 17, 2006 at http://www.quantum-conservation.org/ESB/MOUNTAIN%20PACA.html.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World Volume 2. John Hopkins Univeristy Press: Johns Hopkins.

Ojasti, J. 1996. "Rodents" (On-line). Wildlife Utilization in Latin America: Current Situation and Prospects for Sustainable Management. (FAO Conservation Guide - 25). Accessed October 11, 2006 at http://www.fao.org/docrep/T0750E/t0750e0o.htm.

The National Academies Press, 1991. "Paca" (On-line). Microlivestock: Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future. Accessed October 11, 2006 at http://fermat.nap.edu/books/030904295X/html/263.html.