by Matthew Cobb
This video from a forest camera was sent to me, along with the ID, by a colleague, Professor Richard Preziosi, who’s visiting some of our University of Manchester undergraduate students who are spending a year working in Ecuador as part of their degrees. (Yes that is a recruitment plug!)
The student – Roberto Padovani – is studying Biology and is working in the forest. If the title of the video is anything to go by, this recording was made in the first week. Roberto will have set up a series of video cameras that turn on when an animal comes near. This skittish Paca is the result.
The Paca is a rodent – there are two species that live in the region, the Lowland Paca (Cuniculus paca) and the Mountain Paca (Cuniculus taczanowskii). I *think* this is a Mountain Paca – it seems a lot darker than the Lowland ( I could be wrong!). What exactly it’s frightened of, I’m not sure.
I am *not* a rodent expert at all, and in researching this I have found it confusing – the genus Cuniculus is sometimes replaced by Agouti, which is another (but similar) animal altogether. Agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata) have different anatomy and behaviour. As this website says:
The Lowland paca has a similar shape to the agouti but is a bit larger and usually only comes out at night. What distinguishes them most is that the Paca has creamy white spots on its brown body and a white belly.Like the agouti, it eats a lot of seeds. Pacas are a favorite prey for jaguars and pumas, and their meat is prized by local hunters. With so many things wanting to eat them, Pacas are hard to see in the rainforest. If you want to see one, you should go out after dark.
Although the animals are clearly different I’m still a bit confused about if and when the genus was switched. Maybe a WEIT reader who knows more than I do (not difficult in this respect) can help?
The word ‘Paca’ apparently means, with remarkable imagination, ‘animal’. And if the carnivorous amongst you think those thighs look tasty – you’re not the only ones. They are eaten all across Latin America, and are seen as quite a delicacy. Thankfully, they are not endangered, and there are various projects to rear them commercially for meat. How could anyone eat this beautiful animal?
According to the New Encyclopedia of Mammals:
“Pacas have often been included with the agoutis and acouchis as a separate subfamily of the Dasyproctidae; they are not dissimilar in appearance, but have relatively shorter legs, less reduced digits on the hind feet, and a spotted pelage. To add to the confusion, the scientific name of the Paca is Agouti [not here, it's not – MC], which in common parlance is applied to the Dasyprocta species. Pacas usually occur in forested areas near water, often spending the day in burrows excavated by themselves or abandoned by other animals. They emerge at night to feed on leaves, stems, roots, nuts, seeds, and fruit, and may be a major pest of cultivated land.”
Latin America is full of what are called Cavy-like rodents, including Coypu (which are now well-established in certain areas of the UK having escaped from fur farms), Hutia, Pacarana, Agoutis, Chinchillas, the Spiny Rat, Degu, and the delightfully-named Tuco-tuco, which in some parts of Latin America are considered to be pests:
Photo: J.F.B.Stolz From here.
“Externally, many of these rodents have large heads, plump bodies, slender legs, and short tails – as in the guinea pigs, the agoutis, and the giant capybara, the largest of all rodents at over one meter (39 in) in length.”