Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Degu

Octodon degus
For the last decade or so I've kept Degus, but that came to an end this weekend when my last girl passed away. For some reason I hadn't written about these neat little rodents before, so now seems like the fitting time to do it.

When people heard about my ownership of these animals, their first response was always "What the heck is a Degu?" And I don't really blame them. Before I stumbled upon the breeder of my first girl, I really didn't have a clue either. (Note, Don't impulse buy! I went home and read all about them before I made any decisions!)

Degus love to sleep in piles
Degus are small rodents that are native to central Chile, and they share a family with several species of Viscacha Rat. They are also relatives to Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs. The picture there doesn't do a whole lot of good, but they can grow up to a foot long, including the tail.

All Degus are incredibly social animals. In the wild they can live in huge community burrows, and in captivity they are best kept in multiples. They are diurnal and are exclusively herbivorous, browsing on seeds and leaves.

One of the most bizarre things about Degus is their diet. Due to evolving in an area without much access to sugar, Degus can not ingest dietary sugars without running a a huge risk of developing Diabetes. Captive Degus must be fed foods that are free of sugary treats, which was actually pretty difficult to do when I first started out with the species. Honey, Molasses, and Glucose Syrup are all commonly found in small animal pellets, though thankfully now there are a number of food manufacturers that create food specifically for a Degu's needs.

Due to their strange diet, and also to their intelligence, Degus have been used as lab animals in studies that deal with Diabetes, hand-eye coordination, and Circadian Rhythms. Their popularity as lab animals eventually led to their introduction into the pet industry, though they are still pretty rare and hard to find.

Degus are very intelligent, posses some great problem solving skills, and have unique personalities. Mine could recognize different people and voices, and had different attitudes towards certain snacks, being held, and their reactions to larger animals. (One actually took an interest in the cats and dogs she lived with, and would not be afraid to bark at them if they got too close to her cage)

They also have a lifespan that surpasses that of most small animals. 6-8 years is not uncommon, and some can live far longer that that! Degus do require that special diet that we talked about, and are suceptible to a handful of different diseases. They love to climb and stay active... and they also love to chew, so all cages should be large and have metal bottoms to them so that they don't escape. And, like Chinchillas, they need regular dust baths to keep their coats nice and clean.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Chile
Size : Length up to 12in (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Octodontidae -- Genus : Octodon -- Species : O. degus

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