The Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum) is classified as a large rodent in the genus Dolichotis, which is sometimes regarded as the mara genus.
It is also known as Patagonian hare, Patagonian cavy, or dillaby. It has a rabbit-like appearance and is believed to be herbivorous.
The Patagonian mara can be found in the open and semi-open habitats in Argentina, and this also includes large parts of Patagonia.
It practices monogamy and is said to often breed in warrens shared by other mated pairs. The Patagonian mara is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
- Dolichotis patagonum centricola
- Dolichotis patagonum patagonum
The Patagonian mara has a similar appearance to a jackrabbit. It has distinctive long limbs and long ears.
Its hind limbs are more muscular and longer than its forelimbs, and this occurs because the hind limbs have longer radius than the humerus. Patagonian mara possesses compressed hoof-like feet.
The hind feet have 3 digits while the forefeet have 4 digits. Its tail is short and hairless. It possesses a grey dorsal pelage along with a white patch on the rump which is separated from the grey dorsal fur by a black area.
The Patagonian mara has an average head and body length of 27 to 30 in (69 to 75 cm) with a tail of 1.6 to 2.0 in (4 to 5 cm). It weighs 18 to 35 lb (8 to 16 kg).
Unlike most other cavids such as capybaras and guinea pigs, the anal glands of the Patagonian mara are located between the base of the tail and the anus rather than being anterior to the anus. Males are averagely larger than females.
The Patagonian mara can be distinguished from other members of the family Caviidae by their long rabbit-like ears (Dolichotis which means long ears), large size, and short, almost hairless tail.
It has a whitish venter with patches of rusty orange fur on the cheeks, chin, and flanks. There are only two recognised subspecies, and they are Dolichotis patagonum patagonum and Dolichotis patagonum centricola.
These subspecies are distinguished based on fur colouration and geographic location. Patagonian mara has a dental formula of 1/1, 0/0, 1/1, 3/3.
Social behaviour and reproduction
The social organisations of the Patagonian mara have a unique combination of communal breeding and monogamy.
Due to their monogamous nature, pairs of maras mate for life, with the replacement of partners only occurring after the death of one partner.
The male bears the responsibility of maintaining the pair by accompanying the female everywhere she goes.
The male marks the ground around the female with feaces and secretions from his glands and also marks the female with urine.
A pair may breed alone or breed with other pairs in warrens, which may be shared by up to 29 pairs. The breeding season for Patagonian maras varies on location or region. In Southern Argentina, they breed from August – January.
The gestation period lasts 100 days. In Patagonia, most births occur between September to October, which is after the winter rains and before the summer dry season.
Females in the wild produce one litter each year, while those in captivity can produce as many as four litters a year.
During the breeding season, dens are dug for the young to be raised. Litters from 1 – 22 pairs are grouped together in dens.
Communal living reduces the chances of predator attacks and also increases the survival rate of the offspring. Their predators include grisons, foxes, felids, and birds of prey.
A female Patagonian mara becomes fully mature at 8 months of age. Oestrus occurs once every 3 – 4 months and lasts for half an hour.
A litter may contain 1 – 3 pups, but the average is 2. Each pair take turns to visit the den for one hour while the other pairs circle the den. 1 or 2 pups are cared for at a time by a female.
A female Patagonian mara has 6 or 8 teats. A young may be nursed by another female; however, the mother may try to claim ownership over the child as females do not actively cooperate in raising their offspring.
For the first 3 weeks, the young roam only around the den. During this period, the distance between individuals is usually low due to extended play among the pups, huddling, allogrooming, and frequent body contact.
After the previously mentioned period, the young are able to leave the den and follow their parent to graze. They are weaned after 13 weeks.
Maras make several vocalisations during slow locomotion and grazing and also produce a series of short grunts when grooming.
Maras use scent marking for intense and complex social interactions.
Grasses make up 70% of the Patagonian mara diet. Their diet is very high in cellulose and fibre. In the region where the Patagonian mara is found, most plant biomass consists of shrubs and forbs; despite that, they select rare grasses as their primary forage.
The most preferred grasses are from the genus Pappophorum. In total, the Patagonian mara feeds on 24 different species of grasses and 22 other species of plants.
Some researches indicate that the grass genera Poa and Panicum found in the central part of the region make up most of the Patagonian mara’s diet, followed by Bromus and Stipa.
Patagonian maras in lithosol shrublands and sandy grasslands prefer Prosopis.
Habitat and distribution
The Patagonian mara occurs in the southern and arid central region of Argentina. They are mostly found in habitats with shrub cover, but they also inhabit barren soils and overgrazed in the Monte Desert biome.
In northwestern Argentina, Patagonian maras inhabit lowland habitats such as forest and Larrea or creosote bush.
Patagonian maras prefer low shrub and sandy habitat in the Valdes Peninsula. They have adapted to the cursorial lifestyle on the open plains and steppe, with reduced clavicle, long legs, and well-developed sensory organs.
These traits make them capable of communicating and running in these open habitats.