Animals of Cuba: Desmarest’s Hutia

by AMNH on

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Cuba is home to a wide variety of endemic species, animals found nowhere else in the world.

While unique reptiles and amphibians abound, mammals found only in this island nation are less common, but some do exist, like species of hutia—stout rodents more than a foot long that look something like giant guinea pigs.

Desmarest's hutia perches on a branch and peers at the camera.
A Desmarest’s hutia photographed near Morón in central Cuba.
Creative Commons/Yomangani

There are seven living species of hutia found in Cuba, and Humboldt National Park is home to at least two. Desmarest’s hutia, a specimen of which is on display in ¡Cuba!, is one of them. Weighing in at up to 15 pounds, this rodent is the largest living endemic mammal found in Cuba.

Hutias have a long history on the island. Scientists have found fossils of the extinct giant owl Ornimegalonyx in many Cuban caves. These specimens are often surrounded by remains of its prey, including insectivores, sloths, and numerous now-extinct species of hutia.  

Desmarest's hutia lies on the grass with his eyes closed, basking in the sun.
A Desmarest’s hutia at rest in the sun. 
Creative Commons/G. Sturm

Some hutia species are still common in Cuba, though the giant birds that once dined on them have since disappeared.