Hutias are medium to large, stocky rodents with broad, round heads. They have small eyes and short, rounded ears. Their head and body length is 14 to 32 inches (36 to 80 centimeters) and their tail length is 1.4 to 17 inches (3.5 to 43.1 centimeters). They weigh 1.1 to 18.7 pounds (0.5 to 8.5 kilograms). Their stomachs are divided into three compartments, making it one of the most complex stomachs in all rodents.
Hutias have short legs and five toes on each foot. Each toe has a strong, usually curved, claw. Their fur is generally thick and coarse and the color is usually various shades of black, brown, or gray, with the underside fur being slightly lighter.
Hutias are found exclusively in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
Hutias usually live in forests, plantations, scrublands, marshy areas, and mountainous, rocky areas of rainforest. Brown’s hutia, also known as the Jamaican hutia, usually lives on exposed areas of limestone in the interior of Jamaica. They build their nests in rock crevices or tunnels. The largest populations of hutia are in Cuba, including the Cuban hutia, black-tailed hutia, and prehensile-tailed hutia.
Some hutias, such as the eared hutia, are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and flesh, but eat mostly plants. Their diet includes leaves, fruit, and bark, and occasionally lizards, and small animals. Some species, such as Brown’s hutia, are herbivores, meaning that they eat only plants.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
While very shy towards humans, hutias are usually extremely social with each other. They engage in various activities as a group, including foraging for food and grooming. They generally live in social groups and do not seem to be territorial.
Some hutias are terrestrial, meaning they live mainly on the ground, while other species of hutia are primarily arboreal, meaning they live mostly in treetops. Most species are diurnal, meaning they are mostly active during the day. Brown’s hutia is nocturnal, meaning it is most active at night.
Hutias breed year-round and have one to three litters of babies a year. Females have a gestation period, the length of time they carry their young in the womb, of 110 to 150 days. Females have one to six babies per litter with an average litter size of one or two. The mothers nurse their young until they are about five months old, and the young are able to reproduce at ten months. The average lifespan is eight to eleven years.
HUTIAS AND PEOPLE
Some species of hutia are widely hunted by humans for their meat, such as Brown’s hutia in Jamaica, despite its threatened status. In some areas of Cuba hutias are abundant and considered an agricultural pest by farmers. There is growing concern among conservationists that more species will become extinct soon due to human activities. Brown’s hutia is continuing to drop in population despite its protected status under Jamaica’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1945, which is rarely enforced.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists five species that have recently become Extinct, died out; six species that are Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; and four species that are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction.