Hispaniolan Hutia, Plagiodontia aedium
The Hispaniolan hutia (Plagiodontia aedium) is a species of hutia, sometimes known as the zagouti or jutía in Spanish. It is the only species of hutia still in existence. Its range, as well as the ranges of its extinct relations, is restricted to an island shared by The Dominican Republic and Haiti called Hispaniola. Other species are currently being classified as subspecies of the Hispaniolan hutia.
Typically, the Hispaniolan hutia prefers a habitat within forests. It digs burrows in ravines and rocky hillsides at elevations from sea level to 6,561 feet. Some populations prefer to dwell in trees and avoid the forest floor, while other populations prefer to dig burrows in the ground.
The Hispaniolan hutia typically weighs approximately 2.7 pounds, and can reach an average length of 1.2 feet with a tail length of up to six inches. Extinct species vary in size. P. aedium has a short, thick coat that is brown in color and dark tan on the underbelly. Both the hind feet and the fore feet have five toes, and every digit excluding the thumb bears sharp claws.
Studies conducted on captive Hisponiolan hutias have shown them to be nocturnal and tree dwelling. Wild individuals have been found to be active at night as well. Wild individuals typically live in pairs that consist of one male and one female, and three to four hutias can live in one burrow system. They prefer a diet of fruits and roots.
Specimens of P. hylaeum, a subspecies of the Hispaniolan hutia, were captured near a lagoon, and four of these were pregnant females carrying one embryo each. Captive females of P. aedium also carried one embryo. Other studies concluded showed that members of this species have a pregnancy period that can last up to 150 days, with litters than can hold one to two young.
Most extinct species of hutias are known from skeletal remains found in kitchen middens. It is thought that these five species went extinct because of excessive hunting in the 17th century. P. aedium and the subspecies P. hylaeum have been greatly reduced in number due to hunting, deforestation, and predation by the mongoose, and introduced species in these hutias’ range. Unfortunately, because humans are populating Hispaniola, the Hispaniolan hutia is killed whenever it is encountered.
Through a project called The Last Survivors, funded by the Darwin Initiative, it has been confirmed that several populations of the Hispaniolan hutia have been found living in protected areas including Jaragua and Los Haitises National Park. Currently, the IUCN has listed the Hispaniolan hutia as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.
Image Caption: Hispaniolan Hutia, Plagiodontia aedium. Credit: Solenodon joe/Wikipedia(CC BY 3.0)