Jamaican hutia (Geocapromys brownii)

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Captive Jamaican hutia
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Jamaican hutia fact file

Jamaican hutia description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilyCapromyidae
GenusGeocapromys (1)

The Jamaican hutia (Geocapromys brownii) is the only living terrestrial mammal endemic to the island of Jamaica (3) (4). Being a secretive, nocturnal animal (3), the Jamaican hutia is rarely seen in the wild and very little is known about this species (1).

The Jamaican hutia somewhat resembles a large guinea pig or rat in appearance (3). Its fur is thick and coarse and each of its black hairs is approximately two to two and a half centimetres long, with a small golden or light brown patch near the tip, resulting in a mottled dark red-brown to black-brown coat (2). The Jamaican hutia’s head is large in proportion to its body, but the legs, ears and tail are small, giving it a stocky appearance (5).The tail is scaly and stiff, with short fur which is black on the upperside and grey-brown on the underside (2).

Also known as
Brown's hutia, Indian coney.
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Jamaican hutia biology

Being largely nocturnal, the Jamaican hutia forages at night on a herbivorous diet of fruit, shoots, bark and exposed roots, amongst other general foliage (2).

This species usually forms family groups of between two and six individuals, although up to ten individuals have been recorded in a single group. The Jamaican hutia is thought to maintain contact with other group members using various vocalisations, during both the day and night (2).

Little is known about the reproductive biology of the Jamaican hutia in the wild, but studies on captive animals suggests it does not have a specific mating season and that it produces two litters every year. The average gestation period is 123 days, which is particularly long for rodents of its size, and each litter usually contains one or two young. The young Jamaican hutia is born well-developed, and just 30 hours after birth it starts eating solid food and is able to move around. In females, sexual maturity occurs after about a year, but males mature slightly later (2).

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Jamaican hutia range

As its name suggests, the Jamaican hutia is endemic to Jamaica (3) (4) (5). Although it is a fairly widespread species across Jamaica, its distribution is extremely fragmented (1). Sixteen population sites have been located on the island (3), including the John Crow and Blue Mountains of Portland in the east, the Hellshire Hills and the Brazilletto Mountains in the south and the Cockpit Country in the northwest (2).

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Jamaican hutia habitat

The Jamaican hutia can be found in mountainous areas of karst formation, where extensive networks of tunnels and crevices offer it protection (2). It inhabits a variety of forest habitats including scrub, lowland tropical rainforest, and elfin forest (3).

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Jamaican hutia status

The Jamaican hutia is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Jamaican hutia threats

The Jamaican hutia is one of only two remaining species of the Geocapromys genus (6) after a third, the Swan Island hutia (Geocapromys thoracatus), became extinct in 1955, possibly due to human impacts (5). As the Jamaican hutia has specific habitat requirements, the further loss and degradation of habitat due to human influences is a major threat to the already fragmented population (1).

Even though the Jamaican hutia is a protected species, hunting by native rural populations using dogs and box traps remains a threat today (6). The introduction of the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) in 1872 to control the black rat (Rattus rattus) population still threatens the Jamaican hutia. It is thought that the fissures and crevices provide some protection to the Jamaican hutia, although it is not known whether it is able to escape from the small Indian mongoose (3).Despite numerous threats to the Jamaican hutia, it can still be found living in areas where it is hunted or which contain small Indian mongooses (3). Habitat loss in the form of deforestation is therefore likely to be the most important threat to this species today.

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Jamaican hutia conservation

Although National Parks such as the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park should provide refuges for the Jamaican hutia (6), there is a lack of enforcement in these areas and they cannot protect the Jamaican hutia from the introduced mongoose (1).

The Jamaican hutia has been protected since 1945 under the Wildlife Protection Act, however, this is not strictly enforced and hunting continues to be a problem. There has been mixed success in captive breeding programs for the Jamaican hutia. Although it is fairly easy to breed in captivity, previous attempts to release the Jamaican hutia back into the wild have failed, for reasons not well understood (3). This highlights the desperate need for new studies on the Jamaican hutia in order to have a better understanding of its behaviour and ecology (1).

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

More information on the Jamaican hutia:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Elfin forest
Type of tropical high altitude forest, growing on exposed sites in which the trees are dwarfed or gnarled.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Herbivorous
Having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.
Karst formation
An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Anderson, S., Woods, C.A., Morgan, G.S. and Oliver, W.L.R. (1983) Geocapromys brownii. Mammalian Species, 201: 1-5. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-201-01-0001.pdf
  3. Caughley, G. and Gunn, A. (1996) Conservation Biology in Theory and Practice. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
  4. 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
  5. Mittermeier, R.A. (1972) Jamaica's endangered species. Oryx, 11(4): 258-262.
  6. Woods, C.A. and Sergile, F.E. (2001) Biogeography of the West Indies: Patterns and Perspectives. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
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Image credit

Captive Jamaican hutia  
Captive Jamaican hutia

© Rod Williams / naturepl.com

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
Bristol
BS1 5RR
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699
info@naturepl.com
http://www.naturepl.com

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