Tourists usually go to Machu Picchu to see the ruins, the scenery, or the sunrise, but keen-eyed animal lovers are bound to spot some wildlife too. The llamas might be the first they notice, but what’s that hopping near the rocks? Could it be a small rabbit?
At first glance it does resembles a bunny. Except for the extravagantly curling tail. And the overly long whiskers. And the fact that it moves a bit oddly. Whatever it is, it sure is cute! That cuteness is a clue to its true identity though, since this resident of the “sacred city” is actually a type of chinchilla called a vischaca. All chinchillas are rodents, but most look more like some sort of fluffy space creature than a rat. Viscachas have developed a controlled jumping motion which, combined with their elongated ears and soft, thick fur, make them look something like cartoon rabbits instead.
used with kind permission
Photograph by Juan Carlos Manoz
There are four types of viscachas, all native to South America and nowhere else. They are primarily mountain dwellers, favoring arid slopes full of rocky outcroppings and hiding spots. In fact, the steeper the slope, the better. Viscachas are exceedingly agile, escaping into burrows or up precarious stony ridges at the first sign of trouble from airborne or terrestrial predators. And spotting trouble is something these rodents excel at. Often living in communal family groups, they all pay attention when any community member trills a warning.
As both herbivores and arid mountain dwellers their diet consists of grasses, moss, lichens, and tough fibrous plants that they nibble with constantly growing teeth. Babies are born already furred, with eyes open, ready to supplement their diet with solid food within their first week. They wean within two months and are ready to start families of their own after a year, a necessity in such a harsh climate.
And how, exactly, did that harsh climate produce such cute rodents? That is a mystery we may never solve.
Watch the video to see them in action... To view a larger size video - click HERE to visit ARKive's website or the play button below !