Patagonian maras mate for life, but raise their pups in large communal dens!
Patagonian Mara Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Dolichotis patagonum
Patagonian Mara Conservation Status
Patagonian Mara Locations
Patagonian Mara Facts
- Name Of Young
- Group Behavior
- Communal Dens
- Fun Fact
- Patagonian maras mate for life, but raise their pups in large communal dens!
- Biggest Threat
- Habitat loss, hunting, and competition from introduced species
- Most Distinctive Feature
- Long legs and long ears
- Distinctive Feature
- long whiskers; huge, dark eyes rimmed in black; hoof-like feet with strong claws; white patch near tail; very short, hairless tail
- Other Name(s)
- Patagonian cavy, Patagonian hare
- Gestation Period
- 90 to 100 days
- Litter Size
- 1 to 3, but usually 2
- Open and arid low-lying grasslands, shrublands and forests
- Felids, foxes, grison, birds of prey
- Average Litter Size
- Favorite Food
- Grasses and other low-lying plants
- Common Name
- Patagonian mara
- Number Of Species
- Argentina, in the Patagonain and Pampas regions
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Patagonian maras form monogamous pairs, but raise their pups in large communal dens!
The Patagonian mara is the second largest rodent in the world. Only the capybara is larger. They can grow to approximately 30 inches in length and can weigh up to 35 pounds. That’s roughly the size of the average Australian cattle dog! These large rodents are diurnal and spend most of their time either foraging for food or basking in the sun. Native to the Patagonian and Pampas regions of Argentina, the Patagonian mara sticks mainly to open areas and grazes on grasses and other plants. The size of its population is not known, but due to habitat destruction and other pressures, it is in decline.
Incredible Patagonian Mara Facts
- Patagonian maras are both odd looking and undeniably cute with their large eyes and long whiskers.
- These rodents travel in pairs or larger groups and spend a lot of time looking out for one another.
- To maximize the amount of nutrients they get from their food, Patagonian maras eat their own poop.
- These animals use sprays of urine to frequently mark one another and their territory.
- Patagonian maras can run up to 25 miles per hour and can jump and fight using their powerful legs.
- These large rodents are in the same family as guinea pigs.
Where to Find Patagonian Maras
Members of the Caviidae family are native to South America. The Patagonian mara lives in Argentina, in the Patagonian region and to the north, into the Pampas region. There are two subspecies. The subspecies D. p. centricola, lives further to the north. Its range includes southern portions of the Santiago del Estero Province, the eastern part of the of La Rioja Province, portions of the Catamarca Province, and the northern part of the Cordoba Province. The other subspecies, D. p. patagonum, ranges to the south, from the southern portion of the Cordoba Province, west through the San Luis Province and part of the Mendoza Province, and south to the northern part of the Santa Cruz Province near the San Jorge Gulf.
Patagonian maras typically make their homes in low-lying, open or semi-open areas including grasslands, shrublands, open forests, and even arid, desert-like habitats. They don’t have a problem living in heavily grazed, almost barren lands. They do seem to prefer to be near shrubs, creosote bushes, and other forms of cover. These rodents are fast runners and well adapted to living in open areas.
The Patagonian mara is a member of the Caviidae family of rodents. This family includes such animals as guinea pigs, cavies, and the world’s largest rodents, capybaras. This animal is also sometimes called a Patagonian cavy or a Patagonian hare, although it is rodent and not a rabbit, or hare. It is easy to see why people may be confused, though. These rodents have long, pointed ears, much like those of a hare but not nearly as long as a similarly sized jackrabbit.
It is the Patagonian mara’s long ears that inspired its scientific name. The genus, Dolichotis, was derived from Greek roots. Dolicho means “long” and ōt refers to “ear.” Therefore, Dolichotis means long-eared. The specific epithet, patagonum, simply refers to the region of South America where the species was found.
The Patagonian mara was one of many species described by Eberhard von Zimmermann, a German zoologist, in 1780. Zimmermann was a pioneer in the study of biogeography, and studied animals from all over the world prior to publishing Specimen Zoologiae Geographicae Quadrupedum. A second subspecies, D. p. centricola, was named in 1902.
Patagonian maras are undeniably cute. They look somewhat like a magical creature, cobbled together from parts of other, more familiar animals. They have long, pointed ears, that resemble those of a kangaroo. Their face looks something like the tiniest pony, but with a blunt nose, long whiskers, and humongous dark eyes rimmed in black. Their legs are dainty and slender, similar to a gazelle, and their feet are compact and look like hooves from a distance. However, they are equipped with strong claws on the front feet that they can use defensively.These rodents have short, dense hair covering most of their body. Their coat is grayish-brown, with a darker, almost black patch on top of their rump. Their coat is bright white near their short, hairless tail, and white underneath, up to their belly and chest. They have reddish-orange markings around their head and flanks.
Patagonian maras are about 27 to 30 inches in length. They weigh between 18 and 35 pounds. They have very strong limbs. Their back legs are longer than their front legs, and they have three toes on their hind feet and four on the front. Unlike many rodents that use their front feet like hands, like squirrels, rats, and mice, the Patagonian mara’s feet are designed for running and jumping.
Much of the Patagonian mara’s behavior is related to its open habitat. Their long, powerful legs allow them to run fast, and sticking to open areas allows them to see predators before they get too close. Their typical territory is less than half a square mile, but this varies with the availability of food. Because they are constantly foraging and live in habitats where food is often scarce, it is helpful for Patagonian maras to be able to take their territory wherever they go. And that is exactly what they do, through the use of urine sprays. Males spray urine all over their mates and mark the ground around them with feces and odorous secretions wherever they go.
Patagonian maras travel in pairs, hopping, walking, or running. They also engage in stotting, which is jumping up and down on all fours much like a hoofed animal. They are most active during the day, spending roughly half their time eating, but they sometimes also forage at night. When they are not eating, they are most often basking in the sun or tending to their young.
While grazing, usually one member of a pair forages while the other keeps vigilant for predators. Then they alternate, giving both members of the pair plenty of time to forage while the mate keeps guard. When food is scarce, they are more likely to congregate in larger groups. They use vocalizations to communicate with each other and alert others to danger.
If threatened, either by a rival or a predator, male Patagonian maras will fight aggressively to protect themselves and their mates. They make use of the claws on their strong front legs, but despite their large teeth, they are not well known for biting.
Patagonian maras are herbivores. They eat mainly grasses and other low-growing plants. Sometimes they eat fruits and seeds. They will eat flowers and even occasionally various types of cactus. In order to get the most nutritional value from their food, these rodents practice coprophagia. That means they ingest their own feces, much like many other non-ruminant herbivores.
Patagonian maras raise their offspring in a way that is unique within the mammalian world. They form monogamous pairs that mate for life. However, they also engage in a sort of communal breeding, wherein they cooperate with many others, sharing a large burrow with up to 15 monogamous mates. These pairs do intermingle and mate with one another, nor do they feed one another’s offspring.
This reproductive behavior is highly protective for the species. The more pairs that share the communal burrow, the greater the chance that at least one pair is standing guard at any given time. Unfortunately, male Patagonian maras don’t get along well with each other, though, so each mother must take turns entering the burrow to feed their young.
Each individual mother in the commune comes to the burrow separately once per day. In less than an hour she feeds just her own pups, even though other hungry pups may approach and try to sneak a drink. She identifies her own pups by calling at the entrance to the burrow, and then carefully inspecting the pups as they approach. Interlopers are rejected harshly, however orphaned pups may be able to sneak enough milk from the mothers that come to the burrow to allow them to survive.
In the wild, Patagonian maras generally have only one litter per year. They average two pups per litter, but they may have just one, or rarely three. The gestation period for these rodents is between 90 and 100 days. Precocious pups are born out in the open, with a full coat and their eyes open, but are moved into their communal burrow soon after. They can run within 24 hours after they are born, but they stay in their burrow for about three weeks before emerging to forage with their parents. They reach sexual maturity at about eight months of age.
Although Patagonian maras are large rodents, they are still vulnerable to many predators that share their habitat. Their best defenses are vigilance, speed, and cooperation with other mated pairs, but these are not foolproof. Large cats such as jaguars and cougars can easily kill a Patagonian mara, and some of the smaller wild cats of Argentina could do so as well. Canids such as foxes or bush dogs are also likely predators. The greater grison, an animal that looks like a badger but is more closely related to a weasel, is a fierce foe. Birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks and owls may also prey on these unique rodents.
The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species lists the Patagonian mara at near threatened. The number of individuals in the wild is unknown, but the population is thought to be decreasing. These animals live approximately 14 years in captivity, but average only about 7 to 10 years in the wild. Some of the greatest threats to the species come from humans. Humans hunt Patagonian maras for both their skins and their meat. People have also introduced species such as domestic sheep and the European hare, and have contributed to habitat loss by converting swaths of land to agricultural and livestock use. Habitat destruction and fragmentation have led to decreased populations and even local extinctions in various parts of the Patagonian mara’s range. Efforts to conserve the species focus on preserving habitat and protecting the population within those preserves.View all 192 animals that start with P
Patagonian Mara FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What do Patagonian maras look like?
Patagonian maras have long, pointed ears, that resemble those of a kangaroo. They have a blunt nose, long whiskers, and humongous dark eyes rimmed in black. Their legs are dainty and slender, similar to a gazelle, and their feet are compact and look like hooves from a distance. However, they are equipped with strong claws on the front feet that they can use defensively.
These rodents have short, dense hair covering most of their body. Their coat is grayish-brown, with a darker, almost black patch on top of their rump. Their coat is bright white near their short, hairless tail, and white underneath, up to their belly and chest. They have reddish-orange markings around their head and flanks.
How big are Patagonian maras?
Patagonian maras are about 27 to 30 inches in length. They weigh between 18 and 35 pounds.
How long is a Patagonian mara’s tail?
The Patagonian mara’s tail is very short and hairless.
How fast do Patagonian maras run?
Patagonian maras run up to 25 miles per hour. That’s fast enough to outrun many predators, especially if they get a head start by being vigilant and warning others of danger.
How many varieties of Patagonian maras exist?
There are two subspecies of Patagonian maras. The nominate subspecies, Dolichotis patagonum patagonum, was named in 1780. The second subspecies, Dolichotis patagonum centricola, was named in 1902.
What makes Patagonian maras special?
Patagonian maras are unique within the mammalian world in that they form monogamous pairs, but they raise their offspring together in communal burrows with up to 30 pups.
Where do Patagonian maras live?
Patagonian maras are native only to Argentina. They range over parts of the Patagonian and Pampas regions. They live in low-lying, open or semi-open areas including grasslands, shrublands, open forests, and even arid, desert-like habitats. They don’t have a problem living in heavily grazed, almost barren lands. They prefer to be near shrubs, creosote bushes, and other forms of cover.
Do Patagonian maras migrate?
Patagonian maras do not migrate. They do, however, sometimes relocate.
What do Patagonian maras eat?
Patagonian maras are herbivores. They eat mainly grasses and other low-growing plants. Sometimes they eat fruits, seeds, flowers and even cactus. They also practice coprophagia.
How many pups do Patagonian maras have?
Patagonian maras usually give birth to two pups at a time. They can have one, or rarely three pups in each litter. They usually have only one litter per year in the wild, but may reproduce more frequently in captivity.
What do Patagonian mara pups look like?
Patagonian mara pups look like miniature versions of their parents. They are born with their full coat of hair and with their eyes open. They can run within 24 hours of birth.
When do Patagonian maras wean their young?
Patagonian maras wean their young after about 75 days.
How long do Patagonian maras live?
Patagonian maras live up to 14 years in captivity, but only about 7 to 10 years in the wild.
Are Patagonian maras rare?
Patagonian maras are listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List. They are considered somewhat rare and their numbers are thought to be declining. Predation, hunting for meat and skins, and habitat degradation and fragmentation are major threats. Introduced species such as sheep and European hares have put extra pressure on the species.
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- IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/6785/22190337
- Linda Hall Library/ Dr. William B. Ashworth, Available here: https://www.lindahall.org/about/news/scientist-of-the-day/eberhard-von-zimmermann
- Ailin Gatica, Available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334023500_BEHAVIORAL_RESPONSE_OF_THE_MARADolichotis_patagonum_TO_FOOD_DENSITY_IN_ARGENTINA
- Journal of Zoology, Available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229998815_Communal_breeding_in_the_mara_Dolichotis_patagonum