Dolichotis salinicolaChacoan mara

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Geographic Range

Dolichotis salinicola ranges from the Chaco of Paraguay and the southernmost portion of Bolivia, south into northwestern Argentina and its Cordoba Province. (Dunnum, et al., 2010; Honacki, et al., 1982; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Habitat

Chacoan maras are endemic to the Chaco, a large area in Paraguay consisting of arid forests, thorny scrublands, wetlands, and seasonal rivers and streams. They are primarily found in low, flat, thorn scrub habitat, but also may be found in dry forests. They are often found at elevations ranging from 400 to 800 m throughout the Chaco. (Dunnum, et al., 2010; Mares and Ojeda, 1981; Mares, et al., 1989; Rosati and Bucher, 1995)

  • Range elevation
    400 to 800 m
    1312.34 to 2624.67 ft

Physical Description

These rodents are relatively large compared to other caviids and resemble rabbits due to their long, thin legs, moderately large, broad, pointed ears, and long, stout vibrissae. They weigh 1.8 to 2.3 kg and range from 420 to 485 mm in head-body length, with their tail adding an additional 19 to 30 mm. They also have large hind feet that measure 91 to 30 mm, and they have nails rather than claws at the end of each digit. The ears range from 58 to 64 mm in length. (Mares, et al., 1989; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992)

The pelage of Chacoan maras is short and smooth, with brownish gray to darker gray fur on their backs that is lightly speckled. Their sides are typically lighter in color, ranging from dark gray to white, and the neck and abdomen are also white. White patches can also be found on their foreheads and behind their eyes. Juveniles differ slightly in color than adults, in that they may have reddish-yellow coloration mixed in with the gray on their backs. Additionally, juveniles lack a third color on their flanks, as found on the adults. (Loder, 1906; Mares, et al., 1989; Neris, et al., 2007; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992)

  • Range mass
    1.8 to 2.3 kg
    3.96 to 5.07 lb
  • Range length
    420 to 485 mm
    16.54 to 19.09 in

Reproduction

Little is known about the mating behavior of this species. Apart from activities related to reproduction, female and male Chacoan maras have little to no contact with one another. Even during estrus, females have been observed resisting or withdrawing from males. (Kleiman, 1974)

Little information is available on the reproductive cycle of this species. Gestation lasts 2 months (77 days in captivity) and females bear 2 to 5 young per litter, with an average of 1.5 young per litter. Pups weigh approximately 199 g at birth. (Dunnum, et al., 2010; Kleiman, 1974; Mares and Ojeda, 1981; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992)

Parturition is thought to occur in secluded areas throughout their range, such as under a thorn bush. Newborn Chacoan maras are precocial and can run a few hours after birth. Pups begin following adults a few days after parturition. In order to quickly acquire their natal groups scent, pups often roll around at the group’s urination site shortly after birth. Weaning begins around four weeks old. (Kleiman, 1974)

  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    1.5
  • Range gestation period
    2 (low) months
  • Range weaning age
    4 weeks (low) minutes

Little physical contact has been observed between adult and juvenile Chacoan maras. For example, females nurse their young in a sitting posture for bouts lasting an average of five minutes. Nursing occurs in open, exposed areas. Males generally do not participate in parental care, however, they do seem to tolerate young, which is evidenced through their resting and occasionally playing with juveniles. Scanet marking and play help integrate juveniles into the social unit. (Kleiman, 1974)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

Little information is available regarding the lifespan or longevity of Chacoan maras.

Behavior

Chacoan maras are diurnal and are easily observed early in the morning or evening. They are cursorial rodents, which inhabit either burrows dug by themselves or those abandoned by vizcachas. Chacoan maras live either in small family groups or in pairs. Those living in family groups have been observed sitting in star or fan-shaped formations with their rumps in contact or alongside one another while facing in opposite directions. Because Chacoan maras live in an open, savanna habitat, this behavior likely helps them to quickly spot approaching predators. (Kleiman, 1974; Mares, et al., 1989)

Chacoan maras exhibit unique, playful, locomotor-rotational behavior, which has been described as “frisky hops.” This display, which combines several behaviors, includes "vertical leaps, body twisting, head tossing, racing and pivoting, and prancing with kicking back of the hind feet," and predominates juvenile play. Adult males often join juveniles and infants in frisky hop play; however, the mother only does so occasionally. Frisky hop play is often combined with sandbathing (rolling), urine marking, and sniffing the odors of other Chacoan maras. Smell may play an important role in inducing frisky hop play. For example, Chacoan maras have centralized urination sites, which also serve as sandbathing sites. Prior to sandbathing, however, individuals often perform anogenital drags while urinating. Play at these sites is also common and includes head tossing, leaping vertically into the air and racing to and from the site. (Kleiman, 1974)

  • Range territory size
    3.33 to 19.75 km^2
  • Average territory size
    9.79 km^2

Home Range

The home range of Dolichotis salinicola varies between 3.33 to 19.75 km^2, with the average homerange measuring 9.79 km^2. (Dunnum, et al., 2010)

Communication and Perception

Communication through scent is very important for this species. In captivity, Chacoan maras have been observed to saturate a site with their urine and anal gland secretions. Those sites then become their preferred locations for sandbathing as they provide all members of the group with the same scent. Individuals also urinate on one another as an additional way to share their scent. In addition to scent markings, Chacoan maras make a variety of vocalizations, many of which are very similar to those made by Patagonian maras. For example, young produce a “wheet” call when following and a “whine” when threatening conspecifics. When approached by conspecific rival, Chacoan maras may emit a prolonged wheet that generally drops to a low intensity grunt. (Eisenberg, 1974; Kleiman, 1974)

Food Habits

Chacoan maras primarily forage on leaves and forbs, but also consume woody plants, grasses, fruits, seeds, and succulent species such as cacti and bromeliads. They most often forage on forbs and grasses during the rainy season, with cacti and bromeliads making up a majority of their diet during the dry season. (Mares and Ojeda, 1981; Rosati and Bucher, 1992)

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

Predation

Major predators of Dolichotis salinicola include jaguars, pumas, and Pampas foxes. The coloration of their pelage helps camouflage them from predators and they often try evade predators by outrunning them. Young are born under the protection of dense vegetation and can run a high speeds a few hours after birth. (Taber, et al., 1997; Varela, et al., 2008)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators
    • jaguars (Panthera onca)
    • pumas (Felis concolor)
    • Pampas foxes (Lycalopex gymnocerus)

Ecosystem Roles

As common herbivores in the eastern Salta province, Chacoan maras are sometimes found in high densities and may have a significant impact on the local environment. Potential impacts may include overgrazing and the destruction of seedlings, which together prevent the forest regeneration. As herbivores, however, they may also be important seed dispersers. Chacoan maras are an important prey species for a number of medium to large bodied predators. Although limited information is available on parasites specific to Chacoan maras, they are known to host the tick species Amblyomma pseudoparvum. (Mares, et al., 1989; Rosati and Bucher, 1995; Taber, et al., 1997; Varela, et al., 2008)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chacoan maras are popular game animals throughout their geographic range. Indigenous hunters exploit them for food and for their pelts. The pelts of Patagonian maras, a close relative to Chacoan maras, have been made into bedspreads and rugs and sold in stores specializing in regional goods. (Mares, et al., 1989; Ojeda and Mares, 1981)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Chacoan maras on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Dolichotis salinicola is a species of least concern with no known major threats. This status is based on the species’ wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining at a fast rate. Dolichotis salinicola is found in protected areas within Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. (Dunnum, et al., 2010; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Other Comments

Dolichotis salinicola was formerly included in the genus Pediolagus as Pediolagus salinicola. A number of common names have been used to refer to this species, including Chacoan mara, dwarf mara, dwarf Patagonian cavy, dwarf Patagonian hare, and salt-desert cavy. In Spanish, it is called conejo del palo, which roughly translates to shrub rabbit. ("The cavies", 1975; Dunnum, et al., 2010; Weir, 1974)

Contributors

Jessica Gorchow (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

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

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.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

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

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).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

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.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

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

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