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Posts Tagged ‘Patagonian cavy’

I wrote about this in my mara post.

Source.

Maras will raise their babies communally.

However, females will allow only their offspring to nurse.

So you do get tense situations when the guard changes at the crèche.

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This story reminds me of a documentary on sheep I saw a few years ago.

This Scottish shepherd had a ewe that had given birth to three lambs, but because these were hardy Highland sheep, he didn’t want to nurse a lamb and turn it into a pet.

One of his other ewes had given birth to the usual twins, but one of these twins died shortly after birth. The ewe had nurse the lamb and was bonded to it, but it just died.

Ewes will not nurse lambs that are not their own, so the extra lamb that the other ewe had could not be fostered without some innovation.

The shepherd skinned the dead lamb, and then he dressed the third lamb in its pelt.

The foster ewe thought the third lamb was her baby, and she allowed him to nurse.

The third lamb continued to wear the skin of the deceased for a day or two. By then the third lamb had drank enough of its new mother’s milk to smell right.

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This creature is a Patagonia mara or Patagonian cavy (Dolichotis patagonum). These animals are quite common in captivity.  They are staples of most road side zoos. If one of these zoos doesn’t have one of these, it is more likely to have a capybara, which is another large cavy species.

It is one of two species of mara. The other is the Chacoan mara (Dolichotis salinicola), which lives in the Chaco of Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina, not Patagonia.

These animals are incorrectly called Pampas hares, but they are rodents. Although they look like hares, they are very close relatives of the domestic guinea pigs. However, they are like hares in they produce fairly well-formed young that are fully-furred and capable of running shortly after birth. (Anyone who has seen newborn guinea pigs will recognize that they are quite unlike newborn hamsters or rats.)

My first exposure to the Patagonia mara was on Sir David Attenborough’s  Trials of Life series. Maras are colony breeders, and they tend to pool their young in one big group called a crèches.  The female maras will nurse only their own offspring, and although all young maras will try to nurse from any female, the females will not allow anyone other than their own babies to nurse.  The footage showed the females being quite forceful in enforcing this rule.

South American rodents are very strange creatures. In many ways, they have become the rodent equivalent of ungulates in other continents. The maras are like  a Thompson’s gazelle. The capybara is like a lechwe. The pacas and agoutis are like mouse deer and dik-diks.

These animals are wonderful examples of convergent evolution. They are almost as good examples as the thylacine and the placental wolf and the marsupial  and placental moles.  Similar niches require similar adaptations.

The maras are strange looking animals, but they have an elegance about them. I love the description in one of the comments that the mara was a cross between a Jack Russell and a white-tailed deer.

I don’t think I could have said better myself.

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