Zygodontomys brevicaudashort-tailed cane mouse

Geographic Range

Zygodontomys brevicauda (short-tailed cane mice) is native to eastern Central America and northern South America, as well as some nearby islands. More specifically, it is found in a variety of habitats from eastern Costa Rica, south to western Ecuador, east to French Guiana, and on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Though Z. brevicauda is found as far inland as northern Brazil, they most commonly live in areas near water. ("Zygodontomys brevicauda", 2010; "Mammal Species of the World", 1982)


Zygodontomys brevicauda can be found in a wide variety of habitats including grasslands, marshes, roadsides, forests and agricultural lands, and is typically found at lower elevations (0 to 600 m). Because it can inhabit many different environments, it is better-suited than most sigmodontinids for inhabiting areas near human development, including areas dominated by invasive plant species. Zygodontomys brevicauda is most commonly found in open fields with dense grass or ground cover, where it creates runways connecting feeding and nesting areas. ("Cane Mice", 1991; "Zygodontomys brevicauda", 2010; Mayer, et al., 1992; Utrera, et al., 2000)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 600 m
    0.00 to 1968.50 ft

Physical Description

Zygodontomys brevicauda ranges in head-body length from 95 to 155 mm, and its tail ranges from 35 to 130 mm in length. Tail length is typically three-quarters the length of an individual's head-body length. Adults weigh 60 to 80 g, and captive-born pups weigh 3 to 4 g at birth. Zygodontomys brevicauda has grizzled brown pelage with hues of yellow and red. The venter ranges from grayish-white to darker shades of gray. Pelage color varies with population and habitat type. Island residents are more richly pigmented than those found in arid, mainland regions. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Mayer, et al., 1992; Voss, 1991)

Members of Zygodontomys can be distinguished from most sigmodontinids by their shorter tails and short hind feet, and can be distinguished from Akodon (i.e., grass mice) by the short nails on their forefeet. Zygodontomys brevicauda can be distinguished from its closest extant relative, Zygodontomys brunneus, by its smaller size and deeper zygomatic notches. Sexual dimorphism has not been reported in this species. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Voss, 1991)

  • Average mass
    80 g
    2.82 oz
  • Range length
    95 to 155 mm
    3.74 to 6.10 in


There is little information on the mating systems of Zygodontomys brevicauda. However, members of the subfamily Sigmodontinae generally have promiscuous mating systems. However, Akodon azarae is polygynous females mates with a single male and males attempt to mate with as many females as possible. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Suarez and Kravetz, 1998)

Zygodontomys brevicauda is unique in that it breeds throughout the year non-seasonally. Short-tailed cane mice do not respond to changes in photoperiod; instead, mating habits are related to resource availability or social cues. Ovulation is spontaneous, and gestation typically lasts for 25 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 11 pups, but generally consists of about 5 pups. Females exhibit post-partum estrus and experience no delay in implantation due to lactation. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Pierson and Heideman, 1994; "New World Rats and Mice", 2009; Voss, 1991)

Neonates are born altricial, without hair and teeth, but digits are separated. Young develop juvenile pelage around the 5th day after birth and open their eyes on the 6th or 7th day following birth. Females become mature by 25.6 days after birth, and males become mature by 42.3 days. The presence of adult males increases the rate of uterine growth in young females. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Pierson and Heideman, 1994; Voss, 1991)

  • Breeding season
    Short-tailed cane mice breed non-seasonally throughout the year.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 11
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    25 days
  • Range weaning age
    9 to 11 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    25.6 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    42.3 days

Zygodontomys brevicauda constructs nests from grasses and fallen plant material under tree roots, in holes, or on the bare ground. Females increase food intake during pregnancy to support the development of young and lactation. Young born are altricial and depend on their mother for food and protection in the days following birth. After birth, females nurse young for up to 11 days. Little is know of paternal care in Z. brevicauda; however, in the closely related genus Akodon, females become aggressive towards males shortly before birth and raise the litter on their own. (De Conto and Cerqueira, 2007; Voss, 1991)

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


There is no information available regarding the lifespan of short-tailed cane mice. The average lifespan of wild members of the subfamily Sigmodontinae is less than one year. Those living in captivity can live much longer, sometimes up to 5 years, probably due to adequate food supply and lack of predators. (Nowak, 1999)


Short-tailed cane mice are nocturnal and terrestrial. They are seldom found in or captured in trees. They prefer areas of dense ground cover, where they make runways leading from burrows to areas with resources. They construct burrows in holes or under roots of grasses or other plants. Populations vary in density depending on season and resource availability. When resources are abundant, densities can be up to 15 mice per ha. In times of harsh weather and limited food supply, there may be fewer than 1 mouse per ha. Although there is evidence that they are social, little is known of the social structure of this species. They can persist, proliferate and thrive at high densities as long as resources are plentiful. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Mayer, et al., 1992; "New World Rats and Mice", 2009)

  • Range territory size
    70 (high) m^2

Home Range

There is little information available regarding the home range of short-tailed cane mice. Based on a single study, home ranges may be as large as 70 m^2. (Giuggioli, et al., 2005)

Communication and Perception

There is no information available regarding communication and perception in Zygodontomys brevicauda. However, similar to other sigmodontine rodents, they likely use sight, olfaction, hearing and touch to perceive their environment. It is common for mice to communicate vocally with squeaking sounds or visual signals. Zygodontomys brevicauda may also use scent or chemical cues used to demarcate territorial boundaries and communicate with conspecifics during mating season. (Carleton and Musser, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Short-tailed cane mice are omnivorous, feeding mostly on seeds, grains, insects and fruit. They are also known to eat fungi, insect larvae and grass. Short-tailed cane mice are used in biological studies investigating dietary quality and gastrointestinal function, as they have exceptionally broad diets and are tolerant of a wide range of foods. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Mayer, et al., 1992; "New World Rats and Mice", 2009; Voss, 1991)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Short-tailed cane mice live in a variety of habitats and therefore face a diverse group of predators. Major predators include various birds of prey, including barn owls, striped owl, white-tailed kites, and gray hawks; and small carnivorous mammals, including forest foxes and jaguarundi. Their coloration likely helps reduce risk of predation and the semi-fossorial tendencies help minimize interactions with potential predators. (Voss, 1991)

Ecosystem Roles

As omnivores, short-tailed cane mice are opportunistic feeders that consume both plants and animals. They are locally abundant throughout their range and may have a significant influence on insect pest populations. As herbivores and granivores, they likely disperse the seeds of various plants throughout their geographic range. They are an important prey item for a wide variety of carnivorous animals. Short-tailed cane mice are host to numerous ectoparasites, including mites (Laelaps dearmasi), lice (Hoplopleura nesoryzomydis), fleas, ticks and chiggers (Atelepalme smarma). They are also host to various endoparasites including pinworms and trichomonad protozoa. Short-tailed cane mice are reservoirs for various diseases, such as Yersina pseudotuberculosis, Hantavarus and murine coronavirus, which may affect local wildlife and human populations. ("Cane Mice", 1991; "Hanta bearing mice: is their movement diffusive?", 2004; Voss, et al., 1992; Voss, 1991)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • mites (Laelaps dearmasi)
  • lice (Hoplopleura nesoryzomydis)
  • chiggers (Atelepalme smarma)
  • fleas (Siphonaptera)
  • pinworms (Syphacia)
  • trichomonad protozoa (Hexamita)
  • murine coronavirus (Coronavirinae)
  • Yersina pseudotuberculosis
  • Hantavarus

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Zygodontomys brevicauda is easy to capture in the wild and is a prolific breeder in captivity, making it an excellent model organism for biomedical research. In addition, it copes well with methoxyflurane anesthesia, has a short generation time, recover well from surgery, and urinates and defecates sparingly. It is known to carry a variety of Neotropical viruses and is valuable in epidemiology studies. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Mayer, et al., 1992)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Zygodontomys brevicauda is attracted to areas near human disturbance and agricultural fields. In particular, it can be found on the borders of sugar cane fields and fields containing sorghum and corn, where they become pests by destroying the fields. Further, Z. brevicauda is a reservoir for many Neotropical viruses, including yellow fever, the Guanarito arenavirus that causes Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, and various hantaviruses that can be spread to humans through rodent-human contact. ("Cane Mice", 1991; Mayer, et al., 1992; Utrera and Duno, 2007; Voss, 1991)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Zygodontomys brevicauda is a species of "least concern" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. It is widely distributed and abundant throughout its geographic range. There do not appear to be any major threats to this species. ("Zygodontomys brevicauda", 2010)

Other Comments

There are three subspecies of Zygodontomys brevicauda: Z. brevicauda brevicauda, Z. brevicauda cherriei and Z. brevicauda microtinus. (Voss, 1991)


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



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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


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


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

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


remains in the same area


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


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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.


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.


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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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