chevrotain (shĕvˈrətānˌ) [key], name for several species of small, ruminant mammals of Africa and SE Asia. Although they are also called mouse deer, chevrotains are not closely related to true deer, and are classified in a family of their own.
The smallest of the hoofed mammals, they stand 8 to 14 in. (20–66 cm) high at the shoulder, depending on the species. The body is rabbitlike, with an arched back; the legs are very slender and end in small feet; the snout is tapered and somewhat piglike. Their small size makes them easy and important prey for snakes, crocodiles, eagles, and forest-dwelling cats. The reddish-brown coat is spotted with white in most species. Chevrotains lack antlers but have tusklike upper canine teeth, used by the males for fighting. The upper incisors are lacking.
Solitary, nocturnal animals of thick forests, chevrotains browse on leaves, twigs, and fruit. They sometimes rest in the branches of low trees. The water chevrotain ( Hyemoschus aquaticus ) of Africa is always found near water and takes to the water when pursued. The other chevrotains ( Moschiola and Tragulus species) are found from India to Indonesia and the Philippines, and some also can swim underwater. Chevrotains are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Tragulidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.