Mouse Deer – Chevrotains: Facts and Sightings

Chevrotains, sometimes known as mouse-deer, are small, even-toed ungulates that belong to the Tragulidae family, the only extant members of the Tragulina infraorder. Although the ten extant species are divided into three genera, several species are only known from fossils. The existing species are distributed in South and Southeast Asian dense forest, with a solitary species, the water chevrotain, found in Central and West African rainforests. They are either solitary or dwell in pairs, and their diet consists virtually entirely of plant matter.

Lesser Malay Chevrotain

The Lesser Malay Chevrotain is the world’s tiniest known, hoofed mammal, as well as the smallest extant even-toed ungulate, with an average length of 45 cm (18 in) and a height of 30 cm (12 in).The Asian chevrotain weighs between 0.7 and 8.0 kg (1.5 and 17.6 lb), while the African chevrotain weighs 7–16 kg (15–35 lb).

African Mouse Deer, Water Chevrotain (Hyemoschus Aquaticus)

Chevrotains (genera Hyemoschus and Tragulus) are the oldest extant representatives of early ruminants and are considered living fossils. Non-ruminating ungulates like pigs and hippos are classified as Tragulidae, while ruminating artiodactyls like deer, antelope, and cattle are classified as Tragulidae. True chevrotain is represented by one species in Africa (Hyemoschus aquaticus), and mouse deer is represented by three species in Asia (Tragulus napu, T. javanicus, and T. meminna).

Artiodactyls expanded into different families throughout the Eocene, roughly 54–38 million years ago (mya). Early Tragulids (Archaeotraguludus krabiensis), which first emerged in the Eocene, are the ancestors of today’s chevrotains. Chevrotains that are identical to present species did not appear until the Miocene, according to fossil records (beginning 15 mya).

Physical Traits of the African Mouse Deer

With their small heads, tapering snouts, pencil-thin legs, and stocky bodies, mouse deer (chevrotain) are reminiscent of little hornless deer. These rabbit-sized ungulates, however, belong to a different family. Short, slender legs; even toes; a small, pointed head; a tapering nose; huge eyes; slit-like nostrils; and medium-sized spherical ears covered with a thin covering of hair are all characteristics of the chevrotain family (Tragulidae).

The backs of their heads are rounded and rise toward the back quarters. The body shape of a slipper makes it easier to go through dense jungle. Chevrotains are also very similar to the South American agouti in appearance.

Mouse Deer – Chevrotains: Facts and Sightings
African Water Chevron

Depending on the species, the pelage is short and dense, reddish brown to brown, with contrasting white and brown spots and stripes on the neck, breast, flanks, and underbelly. Females are larger than males in three of the four species.

Chevrotains, unlike actual deer, do not have horns or antlers. Tusk-like teeth—enlarged upper canines that extend downward from the mouth—are used by male chevrotains to fight. In females, the upper canines are simply tiny studs.

Fantastic Facts About Mouse Deer

  • Feared extinct, the Vietnamese silver backed mouse deer was rediscovered in 2019 after a gap of 30 years.
  • The lesser Malay mouse deer can be seen, with patience at Kaeng Krachan national park in Thailand
  • Although African mouse deer are ruminants like cows, called herbivores they’ve been observed eating small crustaceans

Distribution and Habitat of African Mouse Deer

The African mouse deer is distributed from Sierra Leone, through Uganda to Western Uganda. During the Oligocene and Miocene periods, the Tragulidae family had a global distribution. Tragulids are currently only found in the Old World. The three mouse deer species (genus Tragulus) are only found in Southeast Asia, while the sole real chevrotain species (genus Hyemoschus) is only found in east central Africa.

Chevrotains can be found in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, lowland forests, mangrove forests, and thickets. During the day, the three Asiatic species are located in deep vegetation, with rare visits to open regions at night.

When disturbed, these little creatures scurry into deep undergrowth or into water. The African chevrotain is nearly always found near water courses, in tropical rainforests, underbrush, and dense foliage, where it can escape predators by diving into the water.

Where to See Mouse Deer in The Wild

Thai national parks offer possibly the best way to see mouse deer in the wild. These elusive animals only appear at night at streams and feeding grounds near water. A park guide can show you well positioned hides where wildlife can be spotted at night. Khao Sok National Park, which is only a few hours from the capital’s airport uses video monitors which have captured sightings of two subspecies of mouse deer, Tragulus kanchil (lesser mouse deer) and Tragulus Napu (greater mouse deer).

Mouse Deer – Chevrotains: Facts and Sightings
Mouse Deer – Chevrotains: Facts and Sightings

Behavior of Mouse Deer

Chevrotains are difficult to watch because of their shy demeanor, nocturnal sleeping patterns, and fondness for deep woodlands. These shy creatures are flighty, quickly agitated, and prone to leap at the slightest provocation. They dart into dense vegetation or water to avoid predators.

When compared to other woodland species, chevrotains are thought to be particularly solitary. Except for brief communal moments during mating or rearing young, the majority of chevrotains live alone. The lesser Malay mouse deer, which is monogamous, is an exception. Chevrotains are fiercely protective of their territory. Despite the fact that chevrotains’ home ranges are so densely populated, they rarely come into contact with one another.

Chevrotains use scent markers and vocalizations to communicate. Mouse deer make mild bleating sounds when they are startled. The intent to approach is signaled by vocalizations, which are then followed by answer calls.

Diet of Mouse Deer

Chevrotains can digest grasses and leaves that are indigestible to most non-ruminants because they are ruminants. As a result, the chevrotain’s diet consists primarily of new shoots, fruits that have fallen to the ground, and seeds, with some leaves and grasses thrown in for good measure. Some chevrotains have been spotted feeding on insects and arthropods.

Reproduction of Mouse Deer

Although most chevrotain species are polygamous, little is known about their reproductive biology. Chevrotains achieve sexual maturity between the ages of five and twenty-six months. Males seek for and follow females who are in estrus, uttering cry-like vocalizations. The male’s call induces the female to stop moving, allowing the male to lick her genital area in the case of water chevrotains.

Conservation Status of African Mouse Deer

These little ungulates are particularly challenging to examine due to their shy, flighty habit, small size, and nocturnal activity patterns. Hunting and habitat damage pose a threat to all four chevrotain species. Only one subspecies is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, and the water chevrotain is classified as Data Deficient.

Male Mouse Deer Have Fangs For Combat
Male Mouse Deer Have Fangs For Combat

Q & A About African Mouse Deer

Do mouse deer have any resemblance to deer?

Although mouse deer belong to the same suborder as deer (Ruminantia), they are not regarded “true deer.”

Why there are fans in Chevrotain?

Scientists believe that chevrotains utilize their fangs to compete for territory and mates because they lack horns or antlers, and the males’ fangs are exceptionally lengthy.

What kind of deer is a mouse deer?

Chevrotain (family Tragulidae), sometimes known as mouse deer, is a small, delicately formed, hoofed animal that belongs to the Tragulidae family (order Artiodactyla).

Where can I see an African chevrotain?

Nocturnal chevrotain are nocturnal and live only in dense rainforest in Uganda and Sierra Leone. A skilled park ranger may take you to a hide near water in Kibale though video traps are the best way of seeing them in the wild.

Why don’t chevrotains have antlers?.

Chevrotains are not actually deer. Antlers would prevent them running through rain forest.

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