A paca is a member of the genus Cuniculus ( it means of the water) of ground-dwelling, herbivorous rodents in South and Central America. It is the only genus in the family Cuniculidae and has two species, the lowland Paca ( very imaginatively, this means “animal”) and the mountain Paca. They are also called gibnuts or Royal Rat( served to Queen Elizabeth on a state visit).
They are closely related to Agoutis although slightly smaller and spottier. A Paca generally weighs about 29 lbs and grows to 31 inches. They have small legs, large bumps, and a stumpy tail. They also make rather loud noises due to enlarged cheeks bones, mainly when startled, to scare predators. When I first heard it, I was a bit taken aback too.
The mountain species is a bit smaller and darker than the lowland species and is found in the mountains of Bolivia and Venezuela. The lowland species is found all over Central and South America. Their primary habitat is along water bodies and when threatened, they quickly take to water.
They eat fruit and nuts and are famed as the only species of rodent that can crack open a Brazil nut. Their role in the ecosystem appears to be to distribute the seeds of fruit trees as far as possible. They also eat their own poo so that in lean times when fruit is not available, and nutrients are at a premium, they can subsist easily.
The animals are solitary, monogamous, and only come to mate once a year. A single young one is born after about 4 months with its eyes open and ready to eat solid food.
They are not a threatened species although they have lots of very big predators like caiman and jaguars. Now, humans also consider them a delicacy and there have been plans afoot to farm them for food. The numbers are down somewhat due to habitat loss but they are not threatened otherwise in most of their range.