Science and conservation for the world’s 2800 small mammal species

Rodents: Family Ctenomyidae

holding_imgThe family Ctenomyidae, known as tuco-tucos, includes one genus, Ctenomys with 65 species; all are found in central and southern South America up to 4,000 m in elevation. The fossil record show that the family extends to the early Pliocene and that they are closely related to the family Octodontidae. Ctenomys are fossorial species with small ears and eyes and powerful bodies. They inhabit mostly areas with sandy and loamy soil with a few species living in dry grasslands. They dig using their forefeet which are equipped with extremely long and strong claws to loosen the packed earth to build complex, branched burrow systems. Ctenomys urinate on the compacted soil in order to soften the ground for them to dig with their claws, as well as their incisors. These burrow systems are built with different chambers that are used for nesting and storing food, such as roots, stems and grasses that they store to feed on.

In a few of the Ctenomys species there is a complex social system and the burrows are used by many individuals, but in most other species the burrows in the colonies are used by single individuals or mothers with young. The species use vocalization to communicate various signals, such as establishing territories, in mating rituals or as a fear response. When some species are threaten and confronted by an intruder they will attack; other species when threatened will back into their burrows and use their tail as a sensing organ. The complex burrows systems that Ctenomys build are used by other mammals, lizards, toads, invertebrates and sometimes birds as shelter. Although tucos-tucos can damage crops and the root systems of the fruit trees, and the burrows create problems for livestock, they also aerate and fertilize the soil helping with the maintenance of soil fertility for other plants benefiting herbivores, as well growth of crops.

 

 

Work Cited
Myers, P. 2000. “Ctenomyidae” (Online), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 23, 2015 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Ctenomyidae/

Author: Rebeca Mendez