With a round body, spindly legs, and long fangs, this odd creature gives the platypus a run for its money. Also known as the mouse deer, these tiny animals are shy and mysterious, and not much is known about them. But here's what we do know.
1. They’re not mice, nor are they deer.
At first glance, these animals look like a weird mash-up of a deer, a mouse, and a pig. Mouse deer share a suborder with deer (Ruminantia) but are not considered “true deer.” They have their own family, called Tragulidae.
2. Their weight varies.
These creatures are way smaller than any deer. Depending on the species, a chevrotain can be anywhere from 4 to 33 pounds. The smallest species is the lesser Malay, while the largest is the water chevrotain. No species gets any larger than a small dog.
3. There are a lot of different kinds.
This tiny animal comes in many variations. The family has been separated into two genera: true chevrotains (Hyemoschus) and the mouse deer (Tragulus). The spotted mouse deer are still very mysterious, so scientists have placed them in their own subgenus called Moschiola. Despite being categorized in different classes, they all share a similar look.
4. Their fangs are fiercer than Dracula's.
Open up a chevrotain’s mouth and you’ll find two long fangs. They're especially elongated in males, which use the needle-like canines to stab each other. Thanks to an extra thick coat and robust muscles around the neck and rump, these adorable fighters are protected from bites during combat.
5. Some consider the chevrotain a living fossil.
Chevrotains are the most primitive of ruminants. Like deer and similar hoofed animals, they have even-toed hooves and a multi-chambered stomach. But unlike deer, chevrotains have a three-chambered stomach instead of four, and they lack horns or antlers. They haven't changed or evolved much during their time on Earth. Scientists see them as an evolutionary link between ruminants and non-ruminants.
6. Taking a dip is a good defense.
The water chevrotain is known for its ability to dive underwater when it senses a predator nearby. The miniature swimmers scrunch up and walk on the bottom of the water to prevent being picked up by the current. If there are any reeds or plants around, the animals will grab them to stay tethered. Chevrotains are able to hold their breath for about four minutes.
While hiding from hungry predators, the water chevrotain can reemerge subtly to get some air before diving back down. Still, the animal tires easily, and can only swim for short periods of time.
7. Childbirth is an expedited experience.
After getting pregnant, a female chevrotain will carry the offspring for five to nine months, depending on the species. The baby can usually stand on its own within one hour of being born. Mothers will visit their young periodically for feedings and stand on three legs while nursing.
Chevrotains are known for their ability to be almost continuously pregnant—greater and lesser Malay mouse deer can mate again only a few hours after giving birth.
8. They’re wallflowers.
Due to their small size, chevrotains are preyed upon by many different animals. Lacking antlers or horns for protection, the tiny animals are forced to lead secluded lives. Some species are nocturnal and very rarely seen. Chevrotains are very shy and often graze alone, only coming together to mate. They communicate with a series of smells and noises; this timid behavior makes it difficult for scientists to study them.
9. Their hooves make a lot of noise.
Although normally peaceful, a male will angrily beat his hooves when agitated—they can stomp around four to seven times a second. This “drum roll” technique wards off predators and warns other chevrotains in the area that there’s danger.
Additional sources: "Water Chevrotain," Amazing Animals of the World; "Chevrotains (Tragulidae)," Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia; Mammals IV, Gale Virtual Reference Library
All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.