hyrax (hĪˈrăks) [key], name for rabbit-sized mammals of Africa and SW Asia comprising the family Procavidae. Although rodentlike in appearance, hyraxes are hoofed mammals, or ungulates (see Chordata), most closely related to elephants and sea cows. The hyrax, also called coney or dassie, has a squat, furry body, with short slender legs, short ears, and a short tail. It has small hooves on its toes, and moist padded soles that cling to steep surfaces by suction, making it an excellent climber. There are four hyrax species, classified in three genera. The genera Procavia and Heterohyrax include the two ground-living species. They are rock dwellers and live in colonies of up to 50 animals; they are found especially in deserts and hills. The rock hyrax ( P. capensis ) is noted for the "songs" of the male. The species of the genus Dendrohyrax are arboreal and are known as tree hyraxes; they are the only tree-dwelling hoofed mammals. Tree hyraxes are solitary and nocturnal; they are confined to forested regions of Africa. Hyraxes feed on seeds, fruit, and leaves, and in large numbers can be serious agricultural pests. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Hyracoidea, family Procavidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.