Dwarf Hutia
(Mesocapromys nanus)
One of the few modern mammals to be first described from fossil remains, this species was thought to be extinct until living animals were discovered. Once widely distributed across mainland Cuba and the neighbouring Isle of Pines, by the early twentieth century the dwarf hutia was restricted to the largely inaccessible Zapata Swamp. The last individuals known to science were captured in 1937, but local reports and the discovery of tiny droppings suggest that the species may have persisted beyond this date. The species is now feared extinct, having suffered declines following the introduction of black rats and mongooses, and conversion of much of its forest habitat to sugarcane plantations.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Surveys of the Zapata Swamp are required to look for any surviving populations of this species. Control measures on invasive mammals are urgently needed for the conservation of the native mammalian fauna of the Cuban archipelago.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Rodentia
Family: Capromyidae
Hutias belong to the rodent family Capromyidae, which is endemic to the islands of the West Indies and represents an ancient, formerly diverse evolutionary radiation. The wider evolutionary relationships of the hutias are not yet clear; their closest living relatives are either the South American spiny rats (Echimyidae) or the coypu (Myocastor). Most species of hutia have become extinct following human colonization of the Caribbean, with many species having disappeared after European arrival in the region around 500 years ago. The surviving members of the Capromyidae reach their greatest diversity on Cuba. There are four species within the genus Mesocapromys.
Head and body Length: 360 mm
Weight: 0.5 kg
Hutias are medium to large-bodied stocky rodents with broad, round heads, small eyes and short, rounded ears. They have complex stomachs divided into three compartments. Hutias have short legs and five toes on each foot with strong, curved claws. Their brown fur is thick and coarse. The dwarf hutia resembles other species of Mesocapromys, such as the little earth hutia M. sanfelipensis; these are the smallest species of hutias.
Almost nothing is known about the ecological requirements of the dwarf hutia, because the species is known largely from fossils and museum specimens collected in the early twentieth century. A female dwarf hutia that was captured from the Zapata Swamp in 1937 and sent to Berlin Zoo gave birth to a single young. The species is common in fossil bone accumulations representing old owl roosts, indicating that it was once an important dietary component of these birds. Other hutia species are highly social and engage in various activities (e.g. foraging, grooming) as a group. The average lifespan of most hutia species is eight to eleven years.
This species was once widely distributed across terrestrial habitats on Cuba. It may still occur on dry islets and forest patches in the inaccessible Zapata Swamp.
The remains of dwarf hutias are common in the recent fossil record and in Amerindian archaeological sites across mainland Cuba and also on the Isle of Pines (Isla de la Juventud). This species may still occur in the Zapata Swamp in Matanzas Province, which is also the last refuge for other threatened Cuban species (e.g. Zapata rail). According to local informants interviewed by Orlando Garrido, at one time the species was common near Santo Tomás and Soplillar in Zapata.
Population Estimate
The dwarf hutia may well already be extinct, like its close relative the little earth hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis). If any populations still survive, they almost certainly consist of a handful of individuals at most.
Population Trend
Unknown. The last known individuals of this species were collected in 1937. More recent possible evidence for its continued survival - droppings found in the Zapata Swamp that are apparently too small to represent any of the other known Cuban hutias - is unsubstantiated.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR C2a(i)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
It is most likely that the decline of the dwarf hutia has resulted from interactions with invasive mammals, in particular competition with black rats and predation by mongooses; its small size in comparison to other Cuban hutia species may have made it more vulnerable to invasive mammals. Human-caused habitat destruction, including accidental fires in the Zapata Swamp, is also likely to threaten any surviving populations of the species.
Conservation Underway
The last known collection locality for the species was the Zapata Swamp, which is now a National Park.
Conservation Proposed
This species has not been seen over 70 years. Efforts are needed to survey the Zapata Swamp to investigate whether any dwarf hutias may still survive there. An invasive mammal control programme is also necessary to conserve the highly threatened surviving land mammals of the Cuban archipelago.
Allen, G.M. 1917. An extinct Cuban Capromys. Proceedings of the New England Zoological Club 6: 53-56.

Anthony, H.E. 1919. Mammals collected in eastern Cuba in 1917. With descriptions of two new species. Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History 41: 625-643.

Garrido, O.H. 1980. Los vertebrados terrestres de la Península de Zapata. Poeyana 203: 39-49.

Morrison-Scott, T.C.S. 1939. Description of Capromys nana Allen, a supposedly extinct Cuban hutia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, series 11 3: 214-216.

Peterson, O.A. 1917. Report upon the fossil material collected in 1913 by the Messrs. Link in a cave in the Isle of Pines. Annals of Carnegie Museum 11(24): 359-361.

Soy, J. & Silva, G. 2008. Mesocapromys nanus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 November 2010.

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