Pedetes capensis (Forster, 1778)

Don E. Wilson, Thomas E. Lacher, Jr & Russell A. Mittermeier, 2016, Pedetidae, Handbook of the Mammals of the World – Volume 6 Lagomorphs and Rodents I, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 280-287 : 286-287

publication ID 10.5281/zenodo.6617642


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scientific name

Pedetes capensis



Southern African Springhare View Figure

Pedetes capensis View in CoL

French: Springhaas du Cap / German: Sidlicher Springhase / Spanish: Liebre saltadora de El Cabo

Other common names: South African Spring Hare, Southern African Springhaas

Taxonomy. Yerbua capensis Forster, 1778 View in CoL ,

close to Stellenbosch, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

J. F. Gmelin in 1788 renamed it Dipus cafer , and C. Illiger in 1811 created the genus Pedetes and chose the species name cafer , ignoring the precedence of the name capensis . Naturalists rapidly corrected this at the beginning of the 19" century. Monotypic.

Distribution. Broadly distributed in S Africa, C & S Angola, S DR Congo, W Zambia, Namibia (except in Namib Desert), Botswana, Zimbabwe (exceptin the N), S Mozambique, and much of South Africa (except most of Western Cape, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces). View Figure

Descriptive notes. Head-body 336-457 mm, tail 390-485 mm; weight 2:5.3-5 kg. Southern African Springhares are the only large saltatorial bipedal rodent in southern Africa. They look like a small kangaroo (except for the long bushy tail). Skull is stout, and orbits and bullae are large; they have large eyes and hypertrophied middle ears. Pinnae are elongated and “hare-like.” Senses of sight, smell, and hearing are acute. Southern African Springhares have large, ungrooved, opisthodont incisors; bilophodont and hypselodont cheekteeth with very simplified crown patterns; and dental formulaof11/1,C0/0,P 1/1, M 3/3 (x2) = 20. Coatis long and soft, varying in color but predominantly sandy, cinnamon, or reddish brown dorsally and on lower one-half of ears and proximal one-half oftail. Upper one-half ofears, distal one-half oftail, and whiskers are black, and under part of body and insides oflegs vary from white to light orange. Forelimbs are short, and hindlimbs are long and very strong. Forefoot has five short digits all with 18-20 mm claws, well suited for digging and manipulating food. Forefoot has large and small naked palmar knob. Nails of hindfeet are hoof-like that allow clearing excavations in loosened soil. Long (390-485 mm) furry tail maintains balance while hopping, but it is not equivalent to the “third leg” of saltatorial marsupials. Southern African Springhares have two pairs of nipples, of which anterior pair is located just below axilla.

Habitat. Arid and semiarid savannas of southern Africa; flat and open areas with short grasses, few or absent woody or tall vegetation, where soil is soft but firm enough for tunneling. Southern African Springhares are found in high densities in areas with short and green grasses, rhizomes, and corms throughout the year and sandy soils (e.g. near flood plains of rivers, lakes, swamps, and fossil lake beds).

Food and Feeding. Southern African Springhares subsist largely on the most nutritious parts of plants, such as bulbs or corms and also seed and green shoots. They emerge from burrows only at night. In the Kalahari Desert, they feed almost exclusively on grasses. They can ingest small invertebrates on plants they feed on, and some soil has been found in stomachs of some individuals. In a study near Kimberley, Northern Cape Province, Southern African Springhares consumed no less than 20 species of plants, but Cynodon dactylon ( Poaceae ) constituted 41% of the diet. Rhizomes, stolons, green culms, and green leaves were eaten, but no seeds. In the Eastern Cape Province, rhizomes of C. dactylon, tubers of chufa sedge ( Cyperus esculentus, Cyperaceae ), and leaf bases of weeping lovegrass ( Eragrostis curvula, Poaceae ) are predominantly eaten. Everywhere, Southern African Springhares feed on shrubs and small trees, but these are always minor parts of diets.

Breeding. Female Southern African Springhares are polyestrous. They breed throughout the year, but successful reproduction may be associated with plant production following rain. They are polygamous. Gestation is long (about three months), typical of hystricomorph rodents. Litters with a single young are typical, and females have 2-4 litters/year. Weight of young at birth is 238-319 g, about the same as the East African Springhare ( P. surdaster ). Young are precocious at birth, with open ears and eyes that open 2-3 days after birth; they are mobile and able to jump bipedally about four days after birth. Fur starts to appear c.17 days before birth when pelage of the fetus develops rapidly so that at birth, newborn has almost an entire dorsal part ofits body covered with dense brown fur. Young are weaned at about seven weeks old and body weight of c.1-3 kg; they then emerge from the burrow for the first time and start feeding aboveground. Sexual maturity of Southern African Springhares occurs at 2-3 years of age. They can reproduce up to about seven years old and can live up to 19 years old in captivity.

Activity patterns. Southern African Springhares are strictly nocturnal; activities start 30-60 minutes after dusk and end 30-60 minutes before dawn. They dig their burrows with forefeet and cut through roots and other obstacles with their incisors. They burrow throughout the year and increase burrowing activity during the rainy season (December-March). An adequate substrate offirm, sandy, well-drained, soilsis crucial for settlement by Southern African Springhares. Burrows provide shelter from predators, extreme temperature, and wind. Southern African Springhares use several strategies to escape predators; e.g. burrows have complex passages with up to ten entrances. They also seal entrances and passageways once inside, and they frequently change burrows. An individual or a female and hersingle offspring occupy a burrow. When disturbed, they prefer to return to their own burrows instead of going in that of another individual. Southern African Springhares are fearful; they have acute senses of hearing, smell, and sight and run awayat the least sign of danger. Activity is influenced by temperature and moon phase; they reduce activity and remain near their burrows to avoid risk of predation during periods of brighter light. They dislike cold, windy, and rainy days when they stay inside burrows or in their vicinities. In some areas (e.g. Eastern Cape Province), low temperatures, and wind (except whenit is very strong) do not seem to affect daily activities. Every night, Southern African Springhares return to preferred forage sites to dig up grasses and eat their roots. They form temporary groups of up to six individuals to minimize risk of predation while foraging. They are bipedal and saltatorial rodents, but when feeding, they are quadrupedal and move like a rabbit or hare ( Leporidae ). Droppings of Southern African Springhares are scattered singly over feeding areas and at burrow entrances. They sit on their haunches to sleep, nestling their heads and forelimbs between thighs and looping their tails around their bodies.

Movements, Home range and Social organization. Southern African Springhares are solitary and polygamous, with little social cohesion between individuals. They dig their own burrows where they spend the day. At night, they carefully emerge aboveground to forage. They never venture more than 400 m from their burrows. Southern African Springhares are strictly nocturnal, but they occasionally can be seen in daylight hours. Time at which they emerge from their burrows depends on wheather (they dislike cold, windy or rainy days) and moon phases (the darker the night, the further they farther venture). They are not territorial, but they probably defend burrows, which they scent-mark.

Status and Conservation. Classified as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List. The Southern African Springhare presumably has a large overall population,is distributed over a wide area, and occurs in protected areas. It is tolerant of some degree of habitat modification. Even if populations of Southern African Springhares are declining,it is probably too slowly to result in a higher category of conservation concern.

Bibliography. Butynski (1973, 1982, 2013), Butynski & De Jong (2008a), Butynski & Hanks (1979), Butynski & Mattingly (1979), Davies (1982), Forster (1778), Gmelin (1788), llliger (1811), Kingdon (2015), Matthee & Robinson (1997a, 1997b), Monadjem et al. (2015), Nowak (1999d), O'Brien (1982), Parsons (1898), Pearch (2004), Peinke & Bernard (2005), Peinke & Brown (1999, 2003), Roberts (1951), Shortridge (1934a), Skinner & Chimimba (2005), Tanaka (1996).














Pedetes capensis

Don E. Wilson, Thomas E. Lacher, Jr & Russell A. Mittermeier 2016

Yerbua capensis

Forster 1778
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