Paca

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Paca

A paca is a rodent that belongs to the genus Cuniculus, under the family Cuniculidae. They are ground-dwelling herbivorous rodents in Central and South America.

It is the only genus under the family Cuniculidae. These large rodents have stripes and dots on their sides, short ears, and tails.

They are also known as royal rats or gib nuts. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Not Threatened.

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Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
InfraorderHystricognathi
ParvorderCaviomorpha
SuperfamilyCavioidea
FamilyCuniculidae
GenusCuniculus

Species

  • Lowland paca (Cuniculus paca)
  • Mountain paca (Cuniculus taczanowskii)
  • Cuniculus hernandezi

Characteristics

Pacas are 20 to 30 in (50 to 77 cm) in length, excluding the 5.1 to 9.1 in (13 to 23 cm) short tail, weighing 13 to 31 lb (6 to 14 kg), and are also known to be the sixth-largest rodents in the world.

Similar to guinea pigs, pacas have small ears, square heads, virtually invisible tails, and sides patterned with stripes and spots.

With cone-shaped bodies, small forelimbs, and large hind limbs, pacas are said to have a similar appearance to deer-like ungulate chevrotains.

Pacas have 4 – 7 horizontal lines of stripes and blotches along their flanks. They have a robust and heavy appearance, though their legs are relatively tiny and long.

Pacas have 4 toes on each forefoot and 5 on their hind feet (of which 2 are short and barely touch the ground). Young pacas have skins covered with horny scales about 0.079 in (2 mm) in diameter.

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There is virtually no difference between both the male and female. The average lifespan of pacas in the wild is approximately 13 years.

Behaviour

Pacas inhabit cloud forests, rainforests, and sometimes more open habitats. They are found close to a water source and are great swimmers.

They dive into the water when they feel threatened and can stay submerged for about 15 minutes.

Pacas can also jump as high as 3 ft 3 in (1 m) and freeze for about 45 minutes. They usually move along already established paths but will create new paths when old ones are disturbed.

They are usually passive during daytime and forage both in the morning and afternoon, but may express nocturnal behaviours in areas with many predators.

They live in burrows up to 9.8 ft (3 m) deep, normally with two entrances, both covered with leaves to hide the burrow.

Predators except humans include puma, jaguar, margay, ocelot, bush dog, jaguarondi, caiman, and boa constrictor.

Pacas are known to have resonating chambers in their cheeks and their growling noise, which is about 1 kHz, is surprisingly loud for an animal that size.

They mark their territories with urine. Pacas population density can reach up to 70 adults per 0.077 sq mi (0.2 km2).

Reproduction

Paca

The gestation period lasts for 114 to 119 days. Pacas are said to be precocial, as their young are born with their eyes open and also covered with fur.

The usual number of young produced by a female paca is 1, but if conditions are favourable, they may produce up to 3 young. The young are weaned after 6 weeks, as they begin to follow their mother out.

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Pacas reach sexual maturity after 6 to 12 months, with females weighing about 14 lb (6.5 kg) and males weighing 17 lb (7.5 kg).

Mating between pacas occurs in water. At 23 to 25 oz (650 to 710 g) at birth, the young are born in holes too small for both the mother and predators to enter, which are then covered with twigs and leaves.

To call the young out of the hole, the mother uses a low rolling vocalisation. Suckling may last for 90 days, after which the young will weigh 8.8 lb (4 kg).

Diet

In the wild, pacas eat fallen fruits from tall trees and fruits on understory trees, but may also eat buds, leaves, fungi, flowers, and insects.

Pacas also play a vital role in seed dispersal as their home ranges are often located among fruit trees. Similar to rabbits, pacas are coprophagous and absorb carbohydrates and protein from specially produced moist faecal pellets.

Before the young suckle, the mother licks them, which stimulate them to urinate and defecate. The mother then licks the resulting product, both to prevent the odour from attracting predators and also to feed herself.

Habitat and distribution

The lowland paca is found from northern Argentina to southern Mexico.

They live mainly in rainforests near streams, but can also be found in a wide variety of habitats, including gallery forests near water currents and mangrove swamps. Pacas have been observed up to 8,200 ft (2,500 m) above sea level.

The smaller mountain paca lives in the Páramo grasslands and the northern Andes, with a peak occurrence between 6,600 to 9,800 ft (2,000 to 3,000 m) above sea level.

Also Read:  Long-tailed Chinchilla

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