The family Tragulidae (mouse deer or chevrotains) is one of a number of families in the mammal order Artiodactyla (the even-toed ungulates). Tragulidae is the sole family in the artiodactyl infraorder Tragulina, a lineage that diverged from the other artiodactyl ruminants early in their evolution. Meijaard (2011) recognized 10 species of tragulids, placed in three genera (Moschiola, Tragulus, and Hyemoschus). Tragulids are small, secretive ungulates now found only in the tropical forests of Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. The African Water Chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus) is the only tragulid found outside Asia. Two of the three Moschiola species are endemic to Sri Lanka.
Tragulids resemble small, hornless deer with small heads, tapered snouts, slender legs, and stocky bodies. They have large eyes, slit-like nostrils, and medium-sized rounded ears covered with a thin layer of hair. Their backs are rounded and rise toward the rear. This body shape helps them move through dense forest undergrowth. In all tragulid species, the darker base colors contrast with patterns of white and brown spots and stripes on the neck, throat, chest, sides, and underbelly, giving the animal a speckled appearance that provides camouflage in the sun-speckled undergrowth of the dense tropical and subtropical forests in which they live. To escape predators, at least some tragulids take to water.
Tragulids lack antlers, but males sometimes use their enlarged, curved upper canines for fighting with each other over females. Tragulids are mainly solitary, usually interacting only to mate. Unlike most other artiodactyls, tragulids apparently cannot rise on their hind legs. Tragulids have a mainly plant-based diet and, unusually for artiodactyls, at least some species are largely frugivorous.
Only one tragulid species, Balabac Chevrotain (Tragulus nigricans), is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Some other species, however, have very limited distributions (e.g., Silver-backed Chevrotain [T. versicolor] in Vietnam, Northern Chevrotain [T. williamsoni] in northern Thailand (and possibly Laos) and southern China, and the Sri Lankan Moschiola species. Javan Chevrotain (T. javanicus) has lost much of its former lowland habitat and may now have a very restricted range.
Many tragulids are hunted for their meat, usually with traps or dogs.
(Meijaard 2011 and references therein)
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:15
Specimens with Barcodes:7
Species With Barcodes:3
Chevrotains, also known as mouse-deer, are small ungulates that make up the family Tragulidae, the only members of the infraorder Tragulina. The 10 extant species are in three genera, but several species also are known only from fossils. The extant species are found in forests in South and Southeast Asia, with a single species in the rainforests of Central and West Africa. They are solitary or live in pairs, and feed almost exclusively on plant material. Depending on exact species, the Asian species weigh between 0.7 and 8.0 kg (1.5 and 17.6 lb), and include the smallest ungulates in the world. The African chevrotain is considerably larger at 7–16 kg (15–35 lb).
The word chevrotain is French, and can be translated as "little goat".
The single African species is consistently known as chevrotain. The names chevrotain and mouse-deer have been used interchangeably among the Asian species, though recent authorities typically have preferred chevrotain for the species in the genus Moschiola and mouse-deer for the species in the genus Tragulus. Consequently, all species with pale-spotted or -striped upper parts are known as chevrotains, and all the species without are known as mouse-deer.
The Telugu name for the Indian spotted chevrotain is jarini pandi, which literally means "a deer and a pig". In Kannada, it is called barka (ಬರ್ಕ), in Malayalam, it is called khooran, and the Konkani name for it is barinka.
The family was widespread and successful from the Oligocene (34 million years ago) through the Miocene (about 5 million years ago), but has remained almost unchanged over that time and remains as an example of primitive ruminant form. They have four-chambered stomachs to ferment tough plant foods, but the third chamber is poorly developed. Though most species feed exclusively on plant material, the water chevrotain occasionally takes insects and crabs, or scavenges meat and fish. Like other ruminants, they lack upper incisors. They give birth to only a single young.
In other respects, however, they have primitive features, closer to nonruminants such as pigs. All species in the family lack horns, but both genders have elongated canine teeth. These are especially prominent in males, where they project out on either side of the lower jaw, and are used in fights. Their legs are short and thin, which leave them lacking in agility, but also helps to maintain a smaller profile to aid in running through the dense foliage of their environments. Other pig-like features include the presence of four toes on each foot, the absence of facial scent glands, premolars with sharp crowns, and the form of their sexual behaviour and copulation.
They are solitary or live in pairs. The young are weaned at three months of age, and reach sexual maturity between five and 10 months, depending on species. Parental care is relatively limited. Although they lack the types of scent glands found in most other ruminants, they do possess a chin gland for marking each other as mates or antagonists, and, in the case of the water chevrotain, anal and preputial glands for marking territory. Their territories are relatively small, on the order of 13–24 hectares (32–59 acres), but neighbors generally ignore each other, rather than compete aggressively.
Some of the species show a remarkable affinity with water, often remaining submerged for prolonged periods to evade predators or other unwelcome intrusion. This has also lent support to the idea that whales evolved from water-loving creatures that looked like small deer.
Traditionally, only four extant species were recognized in the family Tragulidae. In 2004, T. nigricans and T. versicolor were split from T. napu, and T. kanchil, and T. williamsoni was split from T. javanicus. In 2005, M. indica and M. kathygre were split from M. meminna. With these changes, the 10 extant species are:
- Family Tragulidae
- Genus Hyemoschus
- Water chevrotain, Hyemoschus aquaticus
- Genus Moschiola
- Genus Tragulus
- Genus Hyemoschus
The six extinct chevrotains genera include:
- Genus Dorcatherium
- Genus Dorcabune
- Genus Afrotragulus Sánchez, Quiralte, Morales and Pickford, 2010 
- Genus Siamotragulus
- Genus Yunnanotherium
- Genus Archaeotragulus
- Genus Krabitherium
The Hypertragulidae were closely related to the Tragulidae.
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