Sometimes when it isn’t a blogging day I find super cool animals to write about, and so I have a list of animals for potential future blog posts. Animals usually don’t stay on the list for long, but sometimes one gets consistently overlooked, and I eventually forget about it entirely. Such was the case with the chevrotain, which has been on my ‘To Blog’ list for at least a year and a half, but only came to my attention again thanks to a friend who suggested I blog about it. So now I will finally blog about these neat animals!
Chevrotains belong to the family Tragulidae, which contains ten species, and are also known as mouse deer. They are ungulates, meaning they walk on the tips of their toes, and have hooves. Most species of chevrotain are found in southeast Asia, though one species lives in western and central Africa. They are nocturnal, and prefer areas with dense vegetation, so are found in forests.
One reason for chevrotains prefer covered areas is because of their size. Chevrotains are some of the smallest ungulates in the world, with Asian species ranging from 0.7 to 8.0 kg in weight. The African species is larger, but still only grows to 16 kg. They are about the size of rabbits, which means they are easy prey for many species, including snakes, crocodiles, eagles, and cats. Chevrotains are usually brown with some white markings, generally spots or stripes.
Chevrotains are known for their combination of developed and primitive traits. They are ruminants, meaning they have a four chambered stomach used to ferment plant matter. But they also have a number of characteristics that seem more closely related to non-ruminant ungulates, such as pigs. Canine teeth (which are long and stick out past the jaw in males), short, thin legs, and the presence of four toes on their feet are all somewhat primitive characteristics possessed by chevrotains.
Chevrotains are generally solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. Mating in chevrotains is more pig-like than deer-like, in that there is little display behaviour and copulations are prolonged. Males will sometimes use their long canines to fight each other. Breeding can happen at any time of the year, and females give birth to only one young. Sexual maturity is reached between four to ten months, depending on the species.
Because they are so small and secretive, and are only active at night, there is not a lot known about chevrotain behaviour. Still, these half-pig, half-deer animals are pretty cool, so hopefully we keep studying them!