Patagonian Cavy

Dolichotis patagonum

Last updated: September 23, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© LifetimeStock/Shutterstock.com

Patagonian cavies run anywhere from 18-45 mph!


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Patagonian Cavy Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Caviidae
Genus
Dolichotis
Scientific Name
Dolichotis patagonum

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Patagonian Cavy Conservation Status

Patagonian Cavy Locations

Patagonian Cavy Locations

Patagonian Cavy Facts

Name Of Young
pup
Group Behavior
  • Group
  • Sociable
Fun Fact
Patagonian cavies run anywhere from 18-45 mph!
Biggest Threat
habitat loss, hunting
Most Distinctive Feature
Rabbit-like legs and ears
Other Name(s)
Patagonian Mara, Patagonian Hare, dillaby
Gestation Period
98 days
Temperament
nervous, but sociable
Habitat
arid grasslands
Predators
foxes, birds of prey
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
2
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
grasses, cactuses, seeds, flowers, fruit
Location
Argentina

Patagonian Cavy Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Cream
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
5-10 years
Weight
17-35 pounds
Height
12 inches
Length
24-32 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
3-6 months
Age of Weaning
75-78 days
Aggression
Low

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When frightened, Patagonian cavies run by “pronging” – springing with all four feet, like gazelles.

Patagonian Cavy Summary

Patagonian cavies are the second-largest rodents in the world, after their cousins the capybaras. They resemble dog-sized rabbits, springing gazelle-like across the central Argentinian grasslands. One of their most unusual behaviors is that they live together as monogamous pairs, but in breeding season will form enormous settlements of up to 29 pairs to raise their pups together.

Due to hunting and habitat loss, their numbers in the wild are in decline and they are considered a Near Threatened species. However, they do well in captivity and make reasonably good pets, although they present more training and behavioral challenges than a domestic dog or cat. Tendencies to dig, mark territory, and behave skittishly are some of their less desirable tendencies, but they can be trained to walk on a leash and use a litterbox.

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Patagonian Cavy Facts

  • The only place they live in the wild is in the grasslands of central Argentina.
  • They are active during the day, spending most of their time feeding.
  • Males and females bond as monogamous pairs but raise young in warrens of up to 29 pairs.
  • Some of the sounds they make are “wheets,” grunts, and teeth chattering.
  • Their nearest relatives are capybaras and Guinea pigs, which are also indigenous to South America.
  • They are fast. Various sources say their top speed is anywhere from 18-45 mph.
  • As pets, they can be affectionate and trained to use a litter box and walk on a leash.
  • Hunting and habitat loss threaten their survival to the point that they are now “Near Threatened.”
  • They once ranged all the way to the tip of South America but today are limited to central Argentina. 12 preserves there help prevent the species from going extinct.

Patagonian Cavy Scientific name

The scientific name of this species is Dolichotis patagonum. In Greek, “dolichotis” means “long-eared” and “patagonum” means “from Patagonia.” Other common names for this species are Patagonian mara, Patagonian hare, or dillaby.

Patagonian Cavy Appearance

In size, these are the second-largest rodents after the capybara. They reach anywhere from 17.6 and 35.3 pounds and 27.5 inches long. They are long-legged, rabbit-like rodents related to capybaras and guinea pigs, but with legs and ears more closely resembling rabbits. The Patagonian cavy has a short, stiff, grayish-brown coat with some white around the rump and orange on its sides and around its head and ears. See what they look like yourself in the video below.

Patagonian Cavy Evolution and History

Researchers do not understand the evolution of the genus Dolichotis very well as there have not been enough studies of their fossils yet. They believe this genus originated in the Miocene (23-5.3 million years ago) with a primordial species known as Prodolichotis prisca.

Patagonian Cavy Behavior

These giant rodents spend much of their day grazing or sunbathing. Females often eat more than males to give them energy and nutrition to produce milk for their young. Males spray urine to stake out territories of about 1/2 square mile for themselves and their mates. They travel around in monogamous pairs, hopping like rabbits, galloping, or pronging, which is a form of movement that involves jumping with all four feet at once, like a gazelle. They communicate with one another and others of their species with “wheets,” grunts, and teeth chattering. Facing predators, they run away at top speeds of 18-45 miles per hour or fight fiercely with their clawed feet.

They adjust well to captivity. In zoos, they can be displayed with other species from their habitat without problem. They breed in captivity well. As friendly and gentle animals, they do well interacting with the public in wildlife educational programs or as pets in private homes.

Patagonian Cavy Habitat

As the name suggests, this species lives in Patagonia, which is the name for the southern half of Argentina. Their present range is in the central part of this region, a vast grassland known as the Pampas. They prefer wide open areas of brush and grass that provide them with enough food and space to unleash their speed to escape from predators. Historically they ranged all the way down to the tip of South America, but habitat loss has reduced them to a region of central Argentina.

Patagonian Cavy Diet

Patagonian cavies are herbivorous, feeding on grasses, cactuses, fruits, flowers, and seeds. In captivity, they eat rodent feed, hay, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fresh greens of various types. Sometimes they eat their own dung to absorb more nutrients. As pets, Patagonian cavies can eat commercially available rodent or Guinea pig food, but they must have constant access to hay to keep them chewing and filing down their constantly growing teeth.

Patagonian Cavy Predators and Threats

Some of the predators of the Patagonian cavy are the puma, fox, and grison. One of the greatest threats to their survival is overhunting by humans. Local people hunt cavies for their meat and hides, which make good rugs, bedspreads, and fur linings for hats, gloves, and coats. Another threat is the conversion of grasslands to farming or ranching. Sheep ranching can be particularly destructive. Sheep graze the grass down so thoroughly they alter the habitat to barer scrubland with patches of woody plants. This removes the kinds of plants Patagonian cavies need for their survival.

Patagonian Cavy Reproduction and Life Cycle

Male and female Patagonian cavies form monogamous pairs for life. Only if one of the pair dies will the survivor choose a new mate. Males spray urine on the rump of the female and around their territory to keep away rivals. Females spend more of their time eating, while males eat less and scan the horizon for potential threats.

Despite their monogamous lifestyle, during the breeding season up to 29 pairs band together in warrens to breed with their mates, give birth, and tend their young pups together. Females reach sexual maturity at 8 months. They are in heat for only about 30 minutes once every 3-4 months. In the wild, they usually have just one litter a year, but in captivity, they may have 3-4. Litters are usually 2 pups but can range from 1 to 3. Parents don’t interact with pups very much besides nursing them and foraging nearby. Pups nurse for a long time: 75-78 days before weaning. They hide when they are small, then as juveniles begin to follow their parents around. Around weaning they usually disburse to find mates and start their own families. Patagonian cavies live for anywhere from 5-14 years in the wild, with longer lifespans observed in individuals in captivity.

Patagonian Cavy Population

We don’t know for sure how many Patagonian cavies live in the wild, but researchers do know that they are declining rapidly. Hence, Argentinians have set up 12 protected areas for the Patagonian cavy in their native range to help this fascinating species survive.

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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on mammals, dinosaurs, and geography. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Doctorate in Religion, which he earned in 2009. A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, reading, and caring for his four dogs.

Patagonian Cavy FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How fast can a Patagonian cavy run?

The top running speed of a Patagonian cavy is anywhere from 18-45 mph. They run by “pronging” – jumping on all four legs simultaneously. Gazelles also exhibit this running behavior.

What animals are the Patagonian cavy most closely related to?

Patagonian cavies are rodents. Some of their closest relatives are Guinea pigs and capybaras. All three of these species are indigenous to South America.

Do Patagonian cavies make good pets?

Yes. They adjust very well to life in captivity, whether in a zoo or private home, if well cared for. They are not as easily trained as a cat or dog, but with patience can learn to use a litter box and walk on a leash. They do like to chew and dig. Their quick, skittish behavior when agitated can activate a prey-chasing instinct in dogs or cats, so they need to be watched carefully around other pets.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patagonian_mara
  2. The Spruce Pets, Available here: https://www.thesprucepets.com/patagonian-cavy-care-1239554#:~:text=Many%20localities%20consider%20Patagonian%20cavies,you%20own%20more%20than%20one.
  3. Smithsonian's National Zoo, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/patagonian-mara#:~:text=Patagonian%20maras%20occur%20in%20at,greatest%20threats%20to%20Patagonian%20maras.
  4. Fact Animal, Available here: https://factanimal.com/patagonian-mara/
  5. Comptes Rendus Palevol, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1631068318301350

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