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What is a Hutia?

Hutia meat is popular in Cuba.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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A hutia is a large rodent native to the Caribbean islands. Hutias are classified in the family Capromyidae, and they can be found in a number of genera. At least 26 species of hutia have been identified, with most being classified as extinct. Many living hutia species are considered endangered or threatened, due to habitat destruction and predation. Visitors to the Caribbean do not often see hutias, because they are extremely shy, but several zoos and conservation stocks keep colonies of these animals which can be viewed, for people who are interested.

These animals are classified as cavys, sharing characteristics with other rodents from the region, such as guinea pigs. Like other cavys, hutias have very stout bodies and large heads, and their tails are typically short and stubby. Most hutias are herbivores, eating plants and vegetable material, although some will consume small insects and other small mammals, and they nest underground in layers which may be lined with plant material for shelter and insulation.

The largest living hutia measures around two feet (60 centimeters) long, with most species being much smaller. This is a far cry from the now-extinct Giant Hutia, which could reach the size of a bear. Giant Hutias were once used a food source, as one can well imagine, and they appear to have become extinct as a result of human predation.

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Like other mammals, the hutia bears live young, with the mother nursing and caring for the young until they are mature enough to strike out into the world on their own. Most hutias are brownish to gray in color, with pale undersides and darker backs to camouflage them from predators, and they are generally nocturnal. Their nocturnal habits allow them to shelter from predators, and also to hide from the heat of the day, which can be intense in the Caribbean.

Hutias are threatened by destruction of their natural habitat in the Caribbean for farming and home construction, and they are also hunted by some communities as a food source. Hutia meat is especially popular in Cuba, where is is often stewed and presented with piquant sauces. Some biologists are working to preserve the existing hutia species, designating specific areas as reserves for the use of hutias and other threatened animals, and in the case of species which have been classified as endangered, killing or selling hutias can be punished with a hefty fine.

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