During the annual breeding season, male-male aggression temporarily increases. Males exclude other males from their burrow and monopolize the females (usually 2 to 4) who live there. Dustbathing and urine marking may be used in the defense of territory by both sexes, but these behaviors particularly increase in the male during the breeding season. Courting males often engage in mutual grooming with females, and frequently perform a courtship ritual which involves wagging of the tail and trembling of the body. The male then raises a hind leg and sprays urine onto the female. This may serve to familiarize her with his scent and perhaps make her more receptive to his advances in the future. Receptive females may sometimes enurinate males in a similar fashion. Related female degus may nurse each other's young. (Ebensperger and Caiozzi, 2002; Fulk, 1976; Kleiman, 1974; Soto-Gamboa, 2005)
In the wild degus tend to breed once per year. The breeding season usually begins in late May (autumn in Chile), and the young are conceived in late winter to early spring (September to October). In wet years, degus may produce second litters. It has been suggested that degus may be induced ovulators, but this has not been established for certain. There is also some evidence that male reproductive organs may be sensitive to changes in photoperiod. The gestation period is 90 days, and litter size is typically 4-6 pups. The young are precocial. They are born with fur and teeth; their eyes are open and they are able to move about the nest on their own. Pups are weaned at 4 to 5 weeks, and become sexually mature between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Degus do not reach adult size until about 6 months of age, however, and they generally live in same-sex social groups until they are about 9 months old and their first breeding season occurs. It has been reported that pups raised in isolation in the laboratory experience severe neural and behavioral abnormalities. (Ebensperger and Hurtado, 2005; Lee, 2004; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
Before conception can occur, the male degu must invest considerable energy in the defense of his territory and harem from other males. The female subsequently expends considerable energy in gestation and lactation. The pregnancy is relatively long for a rodent, and the young are born well developed. After birth, both parents protect and provision the pups. Degus nest communally, and groups of related females nurse one another's young. In the laboratory, the female remains close to the pups until two weeks after birth, and males have been observed to huddle with the young during this period without instances of infanticide. In the wild, male degus may spend as much time feeding and huddling with the young as females do. Pups begin to eat solid food at about two weeks of age, and venture out of the burrow at three weeks. Upon weaning at four to six weeks, the pups are able to live independently of the parents and form same-sex social groups until their first breeding season. (Ebensperger and Hurtado, 2005; Fulk, 1976; Lee, 2004; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
In laboratory conditions, degus typically live five to eight years.
Degus are social and tend to live in groups of one to two males and two to five related females. Females participate in rearing on another's young. Groups maintain territories throughout much of the year. Degus are semi-fossorial, digging extensive communal burrow systems. These burrows are often shared by Bennett's chinchilla rat (Abrocoma bennettii). Degus feed exclusively above ground, however, and have been observed climbing into the low branches of shrubs while foraging. Dustbathing is an important social behavior among degus. Groups repeatedly mark favorite wallows with urine and anal gland secretions. This may help the group identify each other by scent as well as delineating territorial boundaries. Degus are mainly diurnal, and are most active during the morning and evening. (Ebensperger, et al., 2004; Fulk, 1976; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
Fulk (1976) estimated that social groups of degus occupy home areas of roughly 200 square meters, and that their density is about 75 degus per hectare. This may be an underestimate, however, due to the trapping methods used. (Fulk, 1976)
Degus have well-developed sight, smell, and hearing. They are highly vocal and use various calls to communicate with one another, including alarm calls, mating calls, and communication between parents and young. Vision is very important in avoidance of predators and in foraging. It has been shown that degus are able to see ultraviolet wavelengths, and that their urine reflects in the UV range when fresh. It has therefore been suggested that degus' urine scent marks are also visual cues. These scent marks are also used as dust wallows, allowing members of a social group to identify each other by scent. (Chavez, et al., 2003; Fulk, 1976; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
Degus are generalist herbivores. They feed on the leaves, bark, and seeds of shrubs and forbs. Among their favorite foods are the bark of Cestrum palqui and Mimosa cavenia, leaves and bark of Proustia cuneifolia, Atriplex repunda, and Acacia caven, annuals such as Erodium cicutarum when in season, green grasses, and thistle seeds. Degus choose food items that reduce fiber and increase nitrogen and moisture in the diet, and thus prefer young leaves and avoid woodier shrubs. Degus rely on microbial fermentation in their enlarged cecum (they are "hindgut fermenters") to digest their food. They reingest a large percentage of their feces, usually during the night. This allows them to maximize their digestion. Degus store food in the winter, and it has been reported that they occasionally eat meat in old age. (Gutierrez and Bozinovic, 1998; Kenagy, et al., 1999; Veloso and Kenagy, 2005; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
Lycalopex culpaeus), and from the air by raptors such as barn owls (Tyto alba), short-eared owls (Asio flammeus), and black-chested buzzard eagles (Geranoaetus melanoleucus). Degus use vigilance and cover to avoid predators. Their pelage is also counter-shaded and matches the soil color, which reduces visibility to predators. Degus live socially and use alarm calls to warn others of danger. When a predator is spotted, they take cover in shrubby areas and may retreat to the communal burrow. (Ebensperger and Wallem, 2002; Woods and Boraker, 1975)is subject to predation by larger mammals such as culpeo foxes (
Adesmia bedwellii, Baccharis paniculata, and Chenopodium petioare, which are less fibrous and less thorny than others. These species have been shown to increase their foliage area upon exclusion of degus. As degus are very common, they are themselves an important food source for their predators. (Gutierrez and Bozinovic, 1998)affects the plant community in its habitat by selective browsing. Degus behaviorally reduce the fiber content of their diet, preferrentially eating shrubs such as
Degus often live in association with Bennett's chinchilla rats (Abrocoma bennettii). The two species are known to share burrow systems and have even been observed in the same chamber within a burrow. This is believed to be a mutualistic relationship, but it is not well understood. (Fulk, 1976; Woods and Boraker, 1975)
Degus are frequently kept as pets, and are used extensively in laboratory research. Because they are largely diurnal, they are useful in research on circadian rhythms, and their intolerance of sugars makes them ideal models for diabetes research. (Lee, 2004)
Degus are significant agricultural pests in some areas. They take advantage of cultivated prickly pear cactus, wheat, vineyards, and orchards as abundant food sources, and can do considerable damage. They are also known to host three species of parasites that can infect humans. (Fulk, 1976)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Mary Hejna (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own
an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals
active at dawn and dusk
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.
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
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).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
uses touch to communicate
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).
Living on the ground.
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
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
young are relatively well-developed when born
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