Curtin, Charles B. Department of Biology, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.
Last reviewed:October 2019
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The name for several species of small ruminant mammals, also called mouse deer, which constitute the family Tragulidae in the order Artiodactyla. Chevrotains, often known as mouse deer (also spelled mouse-deer), belong to the family Tragulidae in the mammalian order Artiodactyla. These animals are the smallest ruminants, growing to a maximum height of 30 cm (12 in.) at the shoulder. There are 10 extant species assigned to the family Tragulidae. The water chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus; see illustration) is found in west-central Africa along the banks of rivers in Sierra Leone through Cameroon to the Congo. It feeds principally on aquatic vegetation. The other chevrotain members belong to the genus Tragulus (6 species) or the genus Moschiola (3 species), and they range through the forested areas of India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, including Sumatra, Borneo, and Java. Notable chevrotains include the Sri Lankan spotted chevrotain (M. meminna), the greater Malay chevrotain (T. napu), the lesser Malay chevrotain (T. kanchil), and the Java chevrotain (T. javanicus). They are differentiated by the pattern of markings (stripes or spots) on their coats, although some species may exhibit a coat of uniform color. The chevrotain lacks horns or antlers. There are two well-developed toes on the feet, and the upper canines of the male are elongate and protrude from the mouth as small tusks. The chevrotain is a shy animal that leads a solitary life, except during the breeding season. After a gestation period of 120 days, one or two young are born. There is a total of 34 teeth, with a dental formula of I 0/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 3/3 × 2. The Eocene fossil ruminant, Archaeomeryx, which was unearthed in Mongolia, shows many general similarities to the modern chevrotains. There are also six genera of extinct ruminants assigned to the family Tragulidae. The main line of evolutionary development of the tragulids occurred in Eurasia. See also: Artiodactyla; Dentition; Mammalia
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