Cuvier’s hutia (Plagiodontia aedium)

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Cuvier's hutia
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Cuvier’s hutia fact file

Cuvier’s hutia description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilyCapromyidae
GenusPlagiodontia (1)

One of just two remaining endemic, non-flying land mammals on the island of Hispaniola (3) (4), Cuvier’s hutia is an unusual large rodent with a robust build, blunt muzzle, short limbs, and a broad head, with small eyes and ears. The fur is short, dense and quite coarse, with a softer underfur, and is brownish or greyish in colour, lighter on the underparts. The tail is relatively short, scaly, and practically naked (2) (5) (6). Each digit of the foot bears claws, which are used for climbing (2) (7). A population from the east of the island may constitute a distinct subspecies, Plagiodontia aedium hylaeum, or even a separate species (3) (4).

Also known as
Hispaniolan hutia, Hispanolan hutia, zagouti.
Size
Head-body length: 31 - 41 cm (2)
Tail length: 12 - 15 cm (2)
Weight
ca. 1.3 kg (2)
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Cuvier’s hutia biology

Little is known about the biology of Cuvier’s hutia. Genetic studies suggest that it is the oldest living lineage within the surviving hutia species, and may have diverged from other hutias about 20 million years ago (7). Primarily a nocturnal species, it moves mainly in the tree canopy, although it is sometimes seen on the ground. It lives in rock crevices during the day (1) (2) (7). Family groups of between three and four individuals have been reported to share a burrow system (2). Although other hutias may feed on both plant and animal material (5) (6), Cuvier’s hutia is believed to be herbivorous, taking a range of plant material including bark, leaves, fruits, roots and buds, and may also feed on crops (1) (2).

Cuvier’s hutia has a rather slow reproductive rate, the female usually producing just a single young, once a year (2) (3), after a relatively long gestation period estimated at 119 to 150 days (2). The newborn hutia weighs around 100 grams, and is able to run around soon after birth (5) (6). Cuvier’s hutia may live for over nine years in captivity (2).

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Cuvier’s hutia range

Cuvier’s hutia is restricted to a few isolated areas on the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) (1) (2) (3).

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Cuvier’s hutia habitat

Inhabits subtropical and tropical forest in rocky areas. It has warrens in amongst the rock crevices and caves, where it spends the daylight hours (1) (2) (7). Cuvier’s hutia is reported to occur at elevations of up to about 2,000 metres (2).

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Cuvier’s hutia status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Cuvier’s hutia threats

Hutias were once a diverse group that occurred across the Caribbean islands, but over half of all hutia species have been wiped out in historical times (5) (6). On Hispaniola, only two of the original endemic land mammal species now remain, including Cuvier’s hutia (3) (4), but the species is under serious threat from a combination of habitat loss, hunting for food, persecution as a crop pest, and predation by introduced species, such as dogs, cats and mongooses. The species has been lost from much of its former range, and its numbers have been drastically reduced (1) (2) (3) (5). The human population on Hispaniola is increasing, and much of the forest has already been cleared for agriculture, firewood harvesting, charcoal production, and urban and tourist development (2) (3) (8) (9). Some geographically distinct populations of Cuvier’s hutia, such as the proposed subspecies P. a. hylaeum, may already be extinct (3) (4).

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Cuvier’s hutia conservation

Cuvier’s hutia occurs in a number of protected areas, although habitat destruction may still be continuing within these (1). Very little is currently known about this unusual rodent (1), and further population surveys and molecular analyses are needed to better determine its status and that of any potential subspecies (3) (4). Hutias have even been suggested as potential candidates for raising commercially as a food source, although Cuvier’s hutia may be less suitable for this than one of its Cuban relatives, Desmarest’s hutia (Capromys pilorides), due to its smaller size and slower reproduction (10).

Educational programmes and strict laws for hutia conservation may have little effectiveness in parts of Haiti, with enforcement being particularly difficult in remote locations. If the species is to be protected within Haiti, suitable areas of habitat will need to be properly protected. Since many of these areas are important for water and soil conservation, such measures should not only help to preserve Cuvier’s hutia and other native wildlife, but also improve the quality of life for local people (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out more about Cuvier’s hutia and about conservation on Hispaniola see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (19/03/10) by Dr Jose Nuñez-Miño, Field Project Manager, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Hispaniola Endemic Land Mammals Project (Darwin Initiative).
http://www.thelastsurvivors.org/

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Herbivorous
Having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.
Inbreeding
The breeding of closely related individuals. An inbred population usually has less genetic variability and this is generally disadvantageous for its long-term survival and success.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. Lidicker Jr, W.Z. (1989) Rodents: A World Survey of Species of Conservation Concern. IUCN/SSC Rodent Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/SSC-OP-004.pdf
  4. Centre for Ecology and Evolution, University College London: Phylogeography and population analyses of the Hispaniolan hutia Plagiodontia aedium (Rodentia: Capromyidae) (November 2009)
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucbtcee/cee/grants/2007/hutia.html
  5. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  7. Nuñez-Miño, J. (March, 2010) Pers. comm.
  8. WWF: Hispaniolan dry forests (November, 2009)
    http://www.nationalgeographic.com/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt0215.html
  9. Brothers, T.S. (1997) Rapid destruction of a lowland tropical forest, Los Haitises, Dominican Republic. Ambio, 26(8): 551-552.
  10. National Research Council. (1991) Microlivestock: Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.
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Image credit

Cuvier's hutia  
Cuvier's hutia

© Jurgen Hoppe

Jurgen Hoppe
info@caribemotion.com
http://www.caribemotion.com

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