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family thryonomyidae

(cane rats or grasscutters)

The Thryonomyidae contains 2 species placed in a single genus (Thryonomys). At present, its members are distributed over Africa south of the Sahara. In the past, cane rats were much more broadly distributed; fossil thryonomyids have been found in Asia and Europe as well as Africa.

Cane rats are large, ranging up to around 9 kg in weight. They have stocky bodies, a large and blunt head, small eyes, and small rounded ears. The tail is considerably shorter than the body and sparsely haired. Limbs are short and powerful. The forefeet and hindfeet have 3 large digits; the pollex and hallux are reduced in size or absent and the fifth finger is very small. On both forefeet and hindfeet, the functional digits have thick, strong claws that are adapted for digging.

The pelage of cane rats is unusual, made up of coarse, flattened or grooved bristle-like hairs, and lacking underfur. Dorsally, cane rats tend to be brown or grayish brown, heavily speckled with yellow or buff; ventrally, they are usually gray or buffy.

Cane rats have a massive skull, heavily built and with conspicuous crests and ridges. The rostrum is broad, the frontal region is broad and flat, and the zygomatic arch is robust. Thryonomyids are hystricomorphous and hystricognathus; the infraorbital canal is large and includes a distinct groove for nerves passing to the rostrum. The jugal nearly contacts the lacrimal. On the ventral surface of the cranium, the bullae are small, and the paroccipital processes are long and straight.

Cane rats have broad, deeply orange incisors. Curiously, the anterior surface of each incisor has 3 grooves that run the length of the tooth. Cheekteeth are moderately hypsodont but rooted (not evergrowing). The upper molars have 2 labial folds and 1 lingual; the reverse is true of the lowers. Each appears to be made up of 3 transverse crests.

Cane rats are generally found in wet or swampy areas where grasses are plentiful. They do sometimes move into agricultural lands, where they can be serious pests in plantations of corn, cassava, sugar cane, pineapple, and other crops. Individuals sometimes associate in small groups, but they are not strongly gregarious. They communicate vocally and by foot-stamping. Cane rats make well-defined paths through dense grass; these usually go from feeding areas to water. These rodents are excellent swimmers, often retreating to water when threatened. Cane rats also are good diggers and excavate shallow burrows as shelters.

While cane rats cause considerable damage to crops, they are themselves prized for their meat.

Families of Order Rodentia

Suborder Sciurognathi

Family Aplodontidae (mountain beaver, sewellel)
Family Sciuridae (squirrels)
Family Castoridae (beavers)
Family Geomyidae (pocket gophers)
Family Heteromyidae (kangaroo rats, pocket mice, and allies)
Family Dipodidae (birch mice, jumping mice, jerboas)
Family Muridae (familiar rates and other rodents)
Family Anomaluridae (scaly-tailed squirrels)
Family Pedetidae (spring hare, springhaas)
Family Ctenodactylidae (gundis)
Family Myoxidae (dormice and hazel mice)

Suborder Hystricognathi

Family Bathyergidae (mole rats, blesmols, and rats)
Family Hystricidae (Old World porcupines)
Family Petromuridae (rock rat or dassie rat)
Family Thryonomyidae (cane rats or grasscutters)
Family Erethizontidae (New World porcupines)
Family Chinchillidae (Chinchillas and viscachas)
Family Dinomyidae (pacarana, branick rats, false paca)
Family Caviidae (cavies and  guinea pigs)
Family Hydrochaeridae (capybara)
Family Dasyproctidae (agoutis, acouchis)
Family Agoutidae (pacas)
Family Ctenomyidae (tuco-tucos)
Family Octodontidae (degus, coruros, rock rats)
Family Abrocomidae (chinchilla rats, chinchillones)
Family Echimyidae (spiny rats)
Family Capromyidae (hutias, zagouties, cavies, Indian coneys)
Family Heptaxodontidae (Quemi, giant hutias)
Family Myocastoridae (nutria, coypu)

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