The Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum) is an unusual, long-legged rodent with highly unique social behaviours. Also known as the Patagonian cavy, this rabbit-like mammal roams across open habitats in Argentina, including large areas of Patagonia. Their rear legs are long and powerful – an adaption allowing them to hop and sprint away from predators.
Patagonian maras reach around 75cm in height, making them one of the largest extant species of rodent (after capybaras, beavers and porcupines). These nimble herbivores mainly feed on green vegetation and fruit. Patagonian maras have quite a few natural predators, including foxes, grisons, cats and birds of prey. Their constant vigilance and agile-build enable them to spot danger early and make an escape.
Monogamous, Patagonian maras live in pairs that remain together for life. However, during breeding season, pairs will come together with around 15 other pairs in a communal burrow. In the wild, females produce one litter a year. The young are raised in this burrow. Parents will visit in turn to nurse their offspring. Raising young in a communal burrow provides greater protection from predators and higher survival rates.
Currently listed as near-threatened, the main threats facing the mara are hunting, habitat loss and competition for food with introduced species such as sheep and European hares.
Hennessy, K., Wiggins, V. (2014) Animal Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide. 2nd edn. London. Dorling Kindersley.