Little Earth Hutia
(Mesocapromys sanfelipensis)
The little earth hutia is a very poorly known species that was first discovered in 1970 on a single tiny island, Cayo Juan Garcia, in the Cayos de San Felipe off southwestern Cuba. A large series of specimens was collected by Cuban researchers from the island during the 1970s, and the species has not been seen since 1978, when 43 individuals were taken as museum specimens. Black rats have been accidentally introduced to the Cayos de San Felipe and are extremely abundant today, posing a major threat to small native hutias. Intensive hunting of hutias and habitat destruction may also have occurred in the recent past. Surveys of the Cayos de San Felipe in the 1980s and 2003 found no surviving hutias, and this species may already be extinct.
Urgent Conservation Actions
New surveys of the Cayos de San Felipe are required to look for any surviving populations.
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 little earth hutia resembles other species of Mesocapromys, such as the dwarf hutia M. nanus; these are the smallest species of hutias.
Almost nothing is known about the ecological requirements of the little earth hutia, because the species is only known from a series of museum specimens collected from Cayo Juan Garcia in the 1970s, and has never been studied alive by researchers. However, other hutia species found on Cuban offshore islands (such as the large-eared hutia Mesocapromys auritus) have narrow dietary requirements, unlike the more generalist species on mainland Cuba. Other hutia species are highly social and engage in various activities (e.g. foraging, grooming) as a group. Hutias breed year-round and have one to three litters a year, with an average litter size of one or two young. The average lifespan of most hutia species is eight to eleven years.
This species apparently occurs in mangroves and low dense vegetation on Cayo Juan Garcia.
This species is only known from a single small island, Cayo Juan Garcia, in the Cayos de San Felipe. These islands are part of the Archipiélago de los Canorreos, located offshore from Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba.
Population Estimate
Less than 50 individuals (possibly extinct).
Population Trend
Unknown. The species was last recorded in 1978, when 43 animals were collected from the island as museum specimens. Surveys of the Cayos de San Felipe in the 1980s and 2003 failed to locate any surviving hutias, but some islets were not surveyed.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR D) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The little earth hutia's decline may have been caused by competition with introduced black rats and other invasive mammals, habitat loss from fires, and overhunting. Black rats were found to be very abundant on the Cayos de San Felipe in surveys conducted in the 1980s and in 2003. Intensive hunting of hutias may have occurred in the past when a military installation was established in the Cayos de San Felipe. Widespread forest clearance apparently took place on Cayo Juan Garcia in 1988-89, and Cuban fisherman still use the islands today as a temporary base, with remaining habitat being periodically damaged by accidental fires started by cooking activities. However, researchers looking for hutias in 2003 found that appropriate habitat was still present across many of the islands.
Conservation Underway
Cayo Juan Garcia is part of the Cayos de San Felipe Faunal Refuge.
Conservation Proposed
This species has not been seen in over 30 years. New field surveys are urgently required to investigate whether any hutias still survive on any islets in the Cayos de San Felipe. An invasive mammal control programme is also necessary to conserve the highly threatened surviving land mammals of the Cuban offshore archipelagos.
Frías, A.I., Berovides V. & Fernández, C. 1988. Situación actual de la jutiita de la tierra Capromys sanfelipensis (Rodentia, Mammalia). Doñana, Acta Vertebrata 15(2): 252-254.

Meier, G.G. 2004. Success and disappointment while searching for hutia. Species 41: 7-8.

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

Varona, L.S. & Garrido, O.H. 1970. Vertebrados de los Cayos de San Felipe, Cuba, incluyendo una nueva especie de jutía. Poeyana 75: 17-26.

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