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Scientific Classification
Dolichotis patagonum

Patagonian mara

Cavies are any of the species rodents belonging to the taxonomic family Caviidae. Thy are a a very diverse family that contains three major, well known species. The first is the capybara which is the largest rodent in the world and is also semi-aquatic. This large rodent can even be kept as an exotic pet. The second is the guinea pig. These rodents look very similar to the capybara but are much smaller. They are a very common pet and do not exist in the wild anymore (but still have wild relatives such as the rock cavy or the Brazilian guinea pig. Guinea pigs can live many years in captivity. the third is the Mara, also known and the Patagonian Mara or Patagonian Hare. This animal is very unique and resembles a capybara and a hare with shorter front legs and longer back legs. They live in desert-like habitats and live in dens or warrens. Capybaras and guinea pigs are also popular food sources for people in South America.

Body Design

Patagonian Mara, showing the different length of the front legs in relation to the rear legs

There are many species in the family caviidae. The semi-aquatic capybara is the largest rodent in the world. It can weigh up to 150 pounds and their long (and round) bodies can be up to four feet in length. The capybara's legs are short, with webbed paws that have small hoof-like claws on the ends of their toes. They have no tail and small ears. Its neck is short and the eyes and nostrils are located near the top of the capybara's head so that it can breathe and see while submerged in water.

The guinea pig and wild cavy's body design is quite similar to that of the capybara, but they are much smaller rodents. Their weight is usually two to four pounds and their length is around ten to fourteen inches (adult). The body is a rounded and cylindrical shape with stubby legs, lacks a tail and has a large head and eyes, petal-shaped ears and a short neck. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

The mara, also called the Patogonian hare is part of family caviidae and is the second largest rodent in the world (the capybara being the largest.) The mara looks a lot like a rabbit or a hare but is not closely related to either.[2] Maras can weigh 20-35 pounds and have a short tail, longer ears than the capybara and guinea pig and have long, slender legs. The front legs have claws, but the mara's hind feet are hooflike. Their coloring ranges from grays and browns and tans to lighter/whitish colors of fur on their underside.[3] The coloration of wild guinea pigs and capybaras is much the same, tans and browns, grays and white on the underfur. However, domesticated guinea pigs have been bred to produce many different colors and coat types. (There is as many as twenty different phenotypes for color and thirteen phenotypes for the different textures and lengths.)Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many [4]

Life Cycle

A mother capybara with her pups

Capybaras live in herds. There is a dominant male that usually has breeding rights to the females. Breeding season for capybaras is all year round but their preference is during the rainy spring months (April through May).[5] A capybara is sexually mature and able to breed at about a year and a half old. Capybaras mate in the water. The gestation period for capybaras is quite long (considering that they are rodents) at about 150 days (or five months).[6] Baby capybaras are called pups. The mother capybara can have as little as one and as many as eight pups (with average litter size being five). Because of the long gestation period, the pups are very well developed, having all their fur and their eyes open at birth. In addition to this, the pups can stand, run around and even swim only hours after birth. They can eat grass within the first week of being born and are fully weaned at about four months. Capybaras can live up to eight to ten years in the wild and even a little longer when kept in captivity. [5]

For members of the species Cavia porcellus (common name: guinea pigs) and their wild cavy relatives, breeding season is late spring to summertime. Male guinea pigs/cavies are sexually mature at just three to four weeks The gestation period for these small rodents is sixty to seventy days (almost two and a half months). They give birth to anywhere from one to four little pups. Just like capybara pups, guinea pig babies are born with all their fur and with their eyes open and basically look like miniature adults. The pups stay close to their mother for warmth and milk after they are born. However,cavy pups mature very quickly and can be almost fully independent at only five days old. Young cavies are weaned at about three weeks and will eat solid food (grass, pellets, hay) at one month old. Average lifespan in the wild is five years but in captivity guinea pigs can live seven to ten years old. The oldest guinea pig (named Snowball) lived to be fourteen years and ten months old.[7]

The mara (or Patagonian cavy) mates for life. They breed three to four times per year. The pups are highly developed at birth (much like the young of its relatives the capybaras and guinea pigs), and they can walk around and run shortly after being born. A female mara is sexually mature at about three months of age while a male takes a little longer (about six months). The gestation period for the Patagonian hare is three months, (ninety days). Their lifespan ranges from seven to ten years.[8] They give birth to one to three pups (average being two). The pups are nursed for seventy-eight days (almost three months). After a mara pup is weaned, it is independent.[9]


The capybara comes from and lives in South America. They can be found in countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Columbia, Argentinian and the Andes. Their habitat must be near water as they are semi-aquatic rodents. This is mostly provided by flooded grasslands where grazing material and water is abundant. They can also be found in lowland forests, dry forests and scrub land. Capybaras live in groups ranging from three to thirty adults (average group size is ten). Each group has their own territory and hierarchy which is sorted out by fights and chasing. For capybaras, the group is extremely important to their survival and solitary capybaras are rarely found. Capybaras communicate with different kinds of sounds. Not all of the purposes for each sound is known, However. They can bark to warn the group of danger. The other way they communicate is by scent secreted from glands on the nose and anus. A capybara's primary food source is grasses and aquatic plants and they occasionally consume bark and fruits. They are also cophrophagous which means they ingest their feces to further process the nutrients. A capybaras predators include anacondas, caimans, jaguars and humans. Young capybaras are more at risk for predation than adults. capybaras primary escape plan is to run and hide in the water with only their eyes and nostrils showing above the surface.

Guinea pigs originate from South America (possibly the Andes mountains). Wild cavies no longer exist in the wild. Their habitat was mostly grassland and they could survive on a range of elevations and temperatures. They are gregarious and enjoy the company of other members of the species. They also have a hierarchy much like the capybara. Guinea pigs often huddle in groups for warmth and possibly security. Guinea pigs also have a large variety of sounds they communicate through. These include chutts, squeaks, whines, whistles, purrs, and chirps. Some are used for warnings and some, like purring, are used to vocalize their contentment. Guinea pigs are vegetarians and rely on humans for food. They can eat many kinds of vegetables, fruits and grasses like timothy hay. As pets, they are often fed pellets which contain specialized vitamins for the well-being of guinea pigs. Since guinea pigs are domestic, they don't have many predators, but they do have wild relatives (Brazillian guinea pigs) have predators such as dogs, cats, coyotes, wolves, owls and some hawks. Guinea pigs have two methods of escape/reaction to predators. One is where they freeze in place and wait for danger to pass. When in large groups, they will sometimes scatter in different directions to confuse predators.

Maras come from central and southern Argentina. Their habitat consists of thorny low shrub land and sandy plains. The weather is quite warm in their habitat. Maras also dig dens/ a warren to live in. Maras prefer an open lanscape because they rely on early detection of their predators on order to get away. They are also very fast runners and can gallop, often moving much like a hare due to the length of their back legs being longer than their front legs. They can reach speeds topping twenty-nine miles per hour. Maras communicate through scents secreted through anal glands. It is not known whether Maras communicate with audible sounds. Patagonian maras eat mostly grasses (about seventy percent of their diet is grasses). Other food sources include cacti (where most of their water comes from. Maras, like guinea pigs also consume feces and have also been seen near sheep ranches, consuming the feces of sheep. They also eat leaves, seeds, grains, nuts, fruits, and flowers. Humans are the Maras' main predator. Others include pumas, some species of foxes and the lesser grison (Galactis cuja).[10]

Cavies as pets

Smooth haired domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) pictured in cage

Guinea pigs are a very popular pet in the U.S. and various other places. they are intelligent and inquisitive.Guinea pigs are social animals and should be kept with another guinea pig but can also thrive if they don't have a buddy (providing they get enough attention from their owner.) They can become very tame and enjoy human companionship. Guinea pigs can be housed indoors or outdoors as long as the conditions are right. Their cage should be about two feet by three feet or larger (to give them space to run around) and they should have a little shelter/house that they can hide in. The cage can be lined with newspaper and then covered over with paper pulp or any kind of wood shavings (as long as it is not cedar and that it is soft and comfortable for their feet.) Overall, the bedding should be absorbent and not too dusty. In addition to good bedding, a guinea pig's cage should be well ventilated (a cage with a wire top helps) but not to drafty or cold. Optimal temperatures are around 65-75 degrees. They are susceptible to heat stroke so temperatures around85 degrees are nearing the danger zone. A guinea pig needs to be provide with fresh, clean water every day.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

A guinea pigs' diet mostly consists of grasses and hay. They must be fed timothy of alfalfa hay daily and it must be the main part of his diet. Pellets should be provided as well. A healthy guinea pig should get about a cup of fresh veggies daily. They enjoy things like kale, lettuce, apple, carrots, celery, cilantro and many others, especially those that provide them with much needed vitamin C. [11]

Capybaras can also be kept as pets. they must be provided with a place to swim, a shelter (like a doghouse/shed with bedding), and a fence that prevent escape. they are vegetarians and eat a lot of grass. They can also eat cattle or rabbit pellets. Like a guinea pig, capybaras are susceptible to extreme temperatures and should be brought into the house if temperatures exceed 85 degrees F. Capybaras are rodents so their teeth continually grow throughout their life time and they must be provided with branches or sticks to chew on/ wear down their teeth with.[12]



  1. Wilson, Reeder. Caviidae Wikispecies. Web. last updated: 20 January 2014.
  2. Patagonian Mara Red Orbit. Web. Date of access: 17 March 2014 author unknown (specify which).
  3. . cavy Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. Date of Access: 17 March 2014 author unknown (specify which).
  4. Miller, Ella. A GUINEA PIG'S LIFE IN THE WILD Pawnation, demand media. Web. Date of Access: 17 March 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 . guinea pig a-z animals. Web. Date accessed: 3 April 2014. Author Unknown.
  6. Thomas, Emily. Life Cycle Web. Date posted: 4 May 2010.
  7. Parker, Lee. The Life Cycle of a Guinea Pig Pawnation. Web. Date accessed: 6 April 2014.
  8. . Patagonian mara Dudley Zoological Gardens. Web. Date accessed: 6 April 2014, Author unknown.
  9. R., Baldi. Dolichotis patagonum — Details Patagonian Cavy reproduction EOL. Web. Date accessed: 6 April 2014.
  10. Mascow, Molly. Dolichotis patagonumPatagonian mara Animal Diversity Web. Web. Date accessed: 6 April 2014.
  11. . Proper guinea pig diet Humane Society. Web. Date of access: 23 March 2014 author unknown.
  12. Bos, Monique. How to Care for a Pet Capybara Demand Media. Web. Date accessed: 3 April 2014.