Nutria

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.
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This golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) is in a typical rodent position, gnawing on some food
Courtesy of Franco Folini, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

VIDEO LIBRARY

About Rodents (Order Rodentia): Feeding

Rodents are famous for their teeth. The large, paired cutting teeth (incisors) in the front of their mouth give them a buck-toothed appearance. The incisors are self-sharpening, thanks to the way they grind together during gnawing. While a strong enamel coating prevents wear on the front, the back of each incisor is soft and wears down. The outcome is a chisel-like shape that can cut into wood, food, or predators. The incisors grow continuously, creating tooth material for sharpening throughout the life of a rodent. A rodent skull is shaped to support the muscles used in gnawing, such as an enlarged region (the pterygoid) that anchors the lower jaw muscles. A skull modification allows the lower jaw to move not only up and down, but back and forth for better grinding action. Rodents are the largest group of mammals on Earth, and their ability to gnaw is part of the reason they have been so successful.

Great fruit-eating bats (Artibeus lituratus) resting in a leaf by day
Courtesy of Brian Gratwicke, Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Activity Pattern

Mammals are able to make enough internal body heat to keep their bodies at a relatively constant, high temperature. Endothermy (endo= inside; thermic= heat) makes mammals less dependent on outside temperatures, freeing them to be active in a wide range of conditions. Mammals may be active at night (nocturnal) or in the day (diurnal), in climates as extreme as the cold poles or the hot tropics. Adaptations to warm up or cool off, such as shivering and sweating, allow mammals to maintain their preferred body temperatures in the face of these extremes. Mammals also regulate body temperature with behavior: elephants flapping ears to cool off, humans wearing coats to warm up, dogs panting to cool down. The hairs making up mammal fur are raised or lowered to provide more or less insulation as needed.