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Maternal Behaviour of the Green Acouchi (Myoprocta Pratti Pocock), a South American Caviomorph Rodent

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The acouchi is a diurnal, surface-dwelling caviomorph rodent, inhabiting the tropical forests of Scuth America, and having a reproductive cycle characterized by a 40-day oestrous cycle, a 31/2 month gestation, and small litters with precocial young. In many respects, it is convergent with the forest-dwelling ungulates. Thus, an analysis of its maternal cycle and a comparison with other rodents and ungulates was considered to be an interesting problem which would add to our knowledge of mammalian parental care systems. An analysis of the acouchi female's behaviour during late pregnancy did not point up any significant changes in the frequency of performance of maintenance behaviours or sbcial interactions. During parturition the mother assumes standing posture and the foetuses are expelled backwards; his is characteristic of mammals bearing precocial offspring. The teat order is an unusual feature of suckling in the acouchi, which often develops between deliveries when the first born establishes ownership over a nipple before the birth of its littermate. Maternal behaviour in the acouchi is characterized by a set of behaviour elements which together function to protect and care for the offspring. The maternal call, a purring sound, serves to maintain contact between the mother and her mobile young. Other patterns include grooming the young, eating the urine and faeces, and retrieving, but the latter is only seen during the first week post-partum and then, rarely. Nest-building behaviour is not closely correlated with the maternal cycle although acouchi mothers use preferred nest sites during early lactation. Maternal aggression is common after parturition and seems to function to isolate the mother and litter during the formation of the mother-young bond. Mothers suckle while lying on the side. Nursing continues long after the young are eating solid food; the prolongation of the mother-young interaction may serve to protect the offspring during the vulnerable juvenile period before they are able to forage independently, take over a territory, or enter into group life. Individual elements in the maternal cycle decline at somewhat similar rates after parturition; however, patterns of aggression (chasing, snorting) and patterns involved in care of the young (suckling, grooming young) are not correlated with one another even though they are, broadly speaking, functionally related. Thus, at parturition, two sets of behaviour elements are activated. Individual patterns (e.g. purring and chasing) from each set may be affected by environmental factors, such as the complexity of the social environment in which rearing occurs. In addition, the process of rearing young alters the frequency of occurrence of several functionallly unrelated activities, such as autogrooming and hoarding.

Affiliations: 1: (Wellcome Institute of Comparative Physiology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, England


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