CAVIES AND MARAS FACTS
Cavies and maras, also called cavids (members of the family Caviidae), range in size from 8 to 30 inches (20 to 75 centimeters) and have a vestigial, no longer functional, tail. They generally have plump, robust bodies with large heads, and short limbs and ears. Their fur in the wild is short and coarse. Cavids have high-crowned jaw teeth that grow continuously. The size and shape of cavids range from small, tailless, shortlegged cavies with body lengths of 5.9 to 15.7 inches (15 to 40 centimeters) and weights of 7.0 to 21.1 ounces (200 to 600 grams) to the larger, rabbit-like salt-desert cavies and maras with shorter tails and, slender limbs, that are 17.7 to 29.5 inches (45 to 75 centimeters) in length and weighs 2.2 to 35.2 pounds (1 to 16 kilograms). Cavies have four clawed front toes and three clawed rear toes. The rock cavy has padded feet and claw-like toes that help it climb rocks and trees. Cavies have flat-crowned teeth that are always growing.
Cavies are found over most of South America, except Chile and some areas of the Amazon River basin. Maras inhabit southern Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina.
CAVIES AND MARAS HABITAT
Cavies and maras are found in a variety of habitat, depending on the species. These include marshes, tropical floodplains, rocky mountain meadows, grassland, desert, and areas with lots of trees and bushes near water, grasslands, and cultivated lands. They are generally not found in dense jungle or rainforests.
CAVIES AND MARAS DIET
Cavies and maras are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants, including grasses and cacti (KACK-tie, or KACK-tee), and plant material, such as seeds, flowers, and fruits.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Cavies and maras are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and are active during the day, or crepuscular (kri-PUS-kyuh-lur), meaning they are active at twilight. They do not hibernate and live in burrows they dig or were dug by other animals. They are generally very social, living in pairs or groups. Cavies and maras have a variety of mating regimens, including hierarchical promiscuity (HI-uh-raar-kick-al prah-miss-KYOO-it-ee), which is frequent sexual intercourse based upon ranking or status in the group; polygamy (puh-LIH-guh-mee), where they have multiple mates in a single breeding season; and monogamy (muh-NAH-guhmee), which is having sexual relations with a single partner during the breeding season. They breed year round and produce multiple litters per year. Cavids have a gestation period, pregnancy, of fifty to seventy days. The number of offspring per litter is usually one to three but can be up to seven. Maras and salt-desert cavies have seasonal breeding patterns and have litters of one or two young.
CAVIES, MARAS AND PEOPLE
Cavies, commonly known as guinea pigs, have been domesticated, tamed, and used as pets for three thousand years. Scientists also use them extensively as laboratory animals. They are raised for food in areas of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Guinea pigs are believed to have been used by the ancient Incas in religious sacrifices. Small cavies are considered to be pests by farmers in agricultural areas. Larger cavies are hunted for food and their pelts, or fur.
No cavy species are currently listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Maras, sometimes called Patagonian hares, are listed as Near Threatened, not currently threatened, but could become so, by the IUCN.