Lowland Paca, Cuniculus paca
The lowland paca (Cuniculus paca) is a rodent that can be found in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the Americas. Its range extends from East-Central Mexico into northern Argentina. It is sometimes called the spotted paca, or simply the paca, but in most of Central America and Mexico, it is known as tepezcuintle, and it has many other native names within its range. This rodent derives its name from the tupi word for “animal”, which can also mean “alert” or “awaken”.
The lowland paca can reach an average weight between 13 and 26 pounds, and has strong, stout legs. Each hind foot bears five toes, while the forefeet bear four, and these serve as hooves. This rodent has no under coat of fur, but does have a coarse coat that can be dark brown or black on the dorsal area, and white or yellow in color on the underbelly. The fur on the sides is typically gray in color and bears three to five rows of white spots. The cheekbones are elongated sideways and dorsally, creating a sort of resonating chamber and this is a distinctive trait among mammals. Female pacas can have two litters per year, with each litter containing one or two young.
The lowland paca is most active at night and prefers to lead a solitary lifestyle. It prefers a habitat within forests, and must live near a water source like a small stream or pond. It will dig burrows in the ground that can reach a depth between six and seven feet, and these homes usually have more than one entryway. It is a skilled swimmer and will flee into the water if threatened. When foraging for food, the lowland paca is able to climb trees. Its diet consists of fruit, leaves, roots, stems, and seeds, but it prefers mangoes, avocados, and zapotes.
The lowland paca can cause damage to crops such as sugar cane, yams, corn, and other food plants, and so it is considered a pest. It is hunted for its meat, which is prized for its exceptional taste. It is threatened by habitat destruction and hunting, although it is not endangered due to its large range and numbers. The IUCN has listed it as of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
Image Caption: Lowland Paca near Las Horquetas, Costa Rica. Credit: Hans Hillewaert/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)