Wondernose: What animal is named after both the mouse and the deer?

by Kevin Shank | Nov 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Mouse deer drinking
Mouse deer. Photo © Lerwit Sasipreyajun/Dreamstime.com.

No, this is not a deer mouse, Wondernose. You see, our mystery animal is neither a mouse nor a deer. It’s simply named after them—for good reason. Fantastic though it may seem, our mystery animal does resemble both mice and deer.

The body shape is where we find the resemblance to a mouse. The head is small compared to the plump body; the snout is pointed and the nose has no fur. The slender legs are not unlike those of a mouse, though our animal’s legs are longer—and it has hooves! Yes, our mystery animal is the very tiniest of the hoofed mammals.

This, of course, is where the resemblance to a mouse ends and the resemblance to a deer begins. Whoever heard of a hoofed mouse? And now you are wondering whether our mystery animal also has horns or antlers. No, it does not. And it’s tiny, smaller than any deer. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the pudu. It’s a deer that lives in Chile, and it’s only the size of an average dog. But our mystery mammal is even smaller; and remember, it isn’t really a deer.

The coloring of its fur, however, does make us think of a deer, especially a baby deer. Some species have white spots and streaks on their brown sides and back. But because of the mouse-shaped body, you probably wouldn’t mistake our animal for a fawn.

Our little mystery animal lives in the warmer parts of Asia and Africa. Like most hoofed mammals, it eats mostly plants. But—and this is a surprise—at least one species will also eat meat! It lives near water and will take crabs or scavenge fish.

Here is a very distinctive feature of our mystery animal, Wondernose. It walks on tiptoe. This means that it uses mostly the tips of its tiny hooves for walking. As a result, it seems very stiff-legged.

You claim to still be very much in the dark as to our riddle’s answer, Wondernose. Well, think again. I said it’s named after the mouse and the deer. I also said it’s not a deer mouse. So, logically, it must be a mouse deer! Many times mouse deer and chevrotain have been used interchangeably. However, in more recent years, chevrotain was used for streaked and spotted species, while mouse deer was used for brown ones.

Fact is, not too many people ever get to see chevrotains. They are shy and wary, which is no wonder when you consider how little defense they have. No claws, no antlers—their main means of defense is to run and hide!

Furthermore, some species of chevrotains are nocturnal. They do come out in the evening before dark, so I suppose a person keeping watch near a stream at twilight might get to see one of these tiny hoofed wonders. A species found in Africa is called water chevrotain because it dwells near water and swims.

Male chevrotains have tusks! Their upper canine teeth grow downward out of their mouths. So if you’re focusing on a chevrotain’s resemblance to a mouse, it makes you chuckle when you picture a mouse with hooves and tusks.

Looking for more ways in which chevrotains resemble other hoofed mammals, we learn that they are ruminants. Do you know what ruminants are, Wondernose? Simply put, they’re animals that chew cud, like cows. A ruminant’s stomach is usually in four parts. When the animal grazes, it swallows quickly, with very little chewing. The food passes from the first to the second part of the stomach, where it is formed into soft masses called cud. Once the animal lies down and relaxes, the cud is returned to the mouth. Now the cud is thoroughly chewed and sent back down to the stomach’s final compartments.

What? You say I’ve never actually told you its size? Well, it’s about 12 inches (30 cm) high at the shoulder. So you see, it’s considerably bigger than a mouse—yet tiny for a deer.

Chevrotain in grass
Chevrotain. Photo © Positive Snapshot/Dreamstime.com.

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