The octodonts owe their scientific name Octodontidae (eight-toothed rodent) to the masticatory surfaces of their molars, which have the form of an “8”. We know the most about the habits of the Degu (Octodon degus). Like the other octodont species, the degu is similar to the rat in size and proportions. Its physical adaptions to a subterranean mode of life are a stocky body and short neck, a large head, a long tail with brush-like hair at the tip, which it raises up when walking, and long whiskers. Hearing and other senses are well developed in this species. The hind legs are shorter than the forelimbs. Degus have five toes with claws on each of their forefeet and hind feet.The Degu is quite common in Central Chile, where they occur from the coast to the Andes at an elevation of 9600 ft (3000 m) and they are also found near cities, sometimes with populations of animals numbering in the hundreds.
Introduction to Degus
Degus are active during the day, according to the investigations of G. W. Fulk, and wander about grazing mainly during the morning and evening hours. They feed on grass, grain seeds, and they hoard food supplies in their burrows in spite of the mild climate. Degus are viewed as serious pests because they destroy grain fields, orchards, vineyards, and cactus plantations (eating the fruits of cactus cultivated in Chile).
They form small clans of five to ten adults, which define the limits of their territories against those of others. They build extensively branched subterranean burrows in grasslands near hedges, bushes, and rocks. These tunnel systems always have several entrances and each group has several different burrows. The animals pile up small earth mounds near the entrances. In addition to the soil they have dug from the ground, they collect much of what they find in the surroundings of these hills, for example, rocks, pieces of wood, dried dung, and other plant parts. These mounds presumably serve for marking territory and also the “personal” property. The high-ranking males often rest close to such a mound. After fighting with an animal from a neighboring area, the owner drags more and more small sticks, rocks, and other small items to his territory’s mound and unloads the collected material. The same behavior occurs after a male has chased away another male.
These mounds are obviously very relevant to the social status of a male that owns his territory. A male animal whose mound has been accidentally destroyed subsequently loses his social position.
In the wild, and in captivity as well, degus have many social contacts. They ruffle each other’s fur for minutes at a time, and they rest close to one another. In the zoo, males participate in the raising of the young. When danger is imminent, degus vocalize an alarm call which alerts all the other animals which immediately run for their dens.
When excited, they beat their long tails. In their territory, degus have shared sand bathing places, which they mark with lots of urine before rolling themselves in the sand. Degus, according to the investigations of B. J. Weis, have about five young per litter, which is a relatively high number. Females have four pairs of teats. She lies on top of the young when suckling which is possibly an adaptation to life in the subterranean burrows.
In contrast, caviomorphs living in steppes usually sit when they suckle their young. Newborn animals are not quite as highly developed as most other offspring of the caviomorphs: their eyes open only after two to three days and the fur is at first sparse, but then grows quickly. In the first stage of their life, the young almost always stay in or near the burrow, where they are carried around by the adult animals. Also, the older animals drag grass by the bushel into the dens during this period.
You will need a degu cage to house these animals.
The young animals feed on the lawn, and some is probably also used for building nests. The young of several females live in the same burrow system, where they are possibly raised jointly by the females. In the southern regions of their range, most young are born at a fixed time of the year (September). Further North, parturition is distributed more over the year.
Why Degus make great pets
Degus make fantastic pets, and for those who are not already familiar with their qualities, here’s a few reasons why:
- They are easy to keep
- There sleeping patterns mean they are awake during the early morning and evening, when you are most likely to be at home, and sleep when you do unlike other pets such as hamsters
- Degus are intelligent, quick to learn and easy to tame and train
- Although they look similar, each Degu has their own distinct personality
- Degus rarely bite, and even when they do its usually an attempt at grooming their owner
- Degus are fascinating to watch and easy to interact with for people of all ages
- Degus do not stink out the room, their urine is odourless and stools are hard and easy to clean up
Overall these pets are fascinating creatures that are easy to keep, great to interact with and fun to look after