Degu Fun

Degus in the Wild

a map of chile, the home of degus Degus originate from Chile in South America, where they live in large family groups. Degus are highly social animals, often living in colonies of around 10, but there have been reports of groups of 60 Degus and more. They live in underground burrows of rooms and tunnels, expanding as more Degus join the colony. The burrows provide shelter from the weather as well as a place to hide from predators that can not be easily infiltrated during sleeping. This is contrary to their biology, as most burrowing animals have small eyes and nails whereas Degus have big eyes and claws1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. They typically spend a few hours in the morning and afternoon, avoiding the main heat on the surface, where they forage for food in groups, using their good vision, hearing and smell to detect predators. Predators of the Degu include different varieties of bird and foxes. Degus exhibit a wide array of communication techniques. They use their urine to mark their territory, and experiments have shown that they react to one another's scents. Degus are seasonal breeders with the breeding season for wild Degus beginning in the Chilean autumn, with pups born 3 months later in early to mid spring. Unlike other mammals, Degus do not hibernate.

A degu sat on a rock Degus are strictly herbivores, feeding on grasses and the leaves of shrubs, though they will also eat seeds. Throughout much of the year forage is dried and so Degus are specially adapted to a very high fibre intake. Although they are active by day, in high summer they do not leave their burrows in the middle of the day and instead emerge to forage in the mornings and evenings. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Degu physiology is their intolerance of dietary sugar. Degus have been found to have a divergent insulin structure (one of the hormones that regulates blood glucose level) and so are highly susceptible to developing diabetes when fed regularly on a diet containing free sugars. This is thought to be due to evolutionary pressure arising from the lack of availability of free sugars in the Degu's natural environment, meaning the ability to handle them was 'phased out' of their system.

Sources:

  • Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) 'Energetics and burrowing behaviour in the semifossorial degu Octodon degus (Rodentia: Octodontidae).' Journal of Zoology, 252: 179-186.
  • Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).

What Gender is my Degu?

How to find out a Degus gender Degus can have different personalities depending on their gender. Females are normally bigger than males, where as males will fight more often when kept together. In order to determine your Degus gender you need to turn it over to see the reproductive organs. This is a difficult task in itself, so a slightly easier way we suggest for the not most tamed of Degus would be to use teasing with a treat to make your Degu stand up against the cage bars for a slightly better view.

Do not be fooled by the cone sticking out where the genitals would normally be, this is only used for urination and not reproduction, a Degu keeps its penis withdrawn and you will only see during grooming or reproduction.

Degu Gender Differences - The Reproductive Organs

The difference between a male Degu and a female Degu is hard to see. The Degu at the top is male and the Degu below the female. When looking at both sexes there is a conical appendage sticking out, this is not a penis, but where the Degu urinates.

As you can see from the picture on the right, the main way to tell the difference is the distance between the sexual organ/ conical appendage and anus. In males, they are around 1cm apart (top picture), where as in females this is much closer at only around 3mm apart (the bottom picture). This can be hard to tell in younger Degus, but with practice you will see the differences easily.

What do Degu's look like?

Although the vast majority or Degus look the same, each will have some variation in fur patterns, weight and other characteristics.

01Fur

A Degu's Fur A Degu's fur is naturally a tweed colour which becomes lighter towards the under-belly, although thanks to genetic manipulations and cross-breeding, they can be found in black, blue (metallic blue-black), tan, white and cream1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. Colour varieties are in higher demand and more common in mainland Europe in countries such as Germany, and it is not yet known the health implications of this genetic engineering. The hair is short and soft1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. Some Degus may have white flanks, the area between the ribs and hips, which is believed to be a sign of infertility, although we could not find any research confirming this.

A Degu's fur can not be allowed to become wet as it may be become brittle and damaged, and so other than their water bottle nozzle there should be no sources of water near to them to avoid this. As an alternative to help keep their fur dry and clean, they should be given access to a sand bath for around 30 minutes every day. Leaving the sand bath in the cage for too long or giving one too often could also damage the fur by drying it out. Some Degus (such as mine) will only use the bath occasionally and therefore does not need to be constantly monitored, but for some Degus it is a game as well as a way of keeping clean, so excessive use can occur easily.

Degus can occasionally shed their fur once or twice a year, in-keeping with the season's changing temperatures (longer fur in winter, shorter in summer). This happens roughly between March and July in the UK, although this fur shedding has not been experienced by all Degu owners, possibly as compared to the harsh temperatures in their natural desert environment, the British weather is not as drastic and your pet will be kept mainly indoors at a roughly constant temperature, so the need to shed fur may not be needed. Another reason for the observed differences in fur shedding could be evolution and adapting to the constant climate in housing, as over an average person's lifetime a single pet Degu could reproduce and be the beginning of 50-60 generations of domesticated Degus.

02Eyes

A Degu's eye Degu's have dark, big eyes, which are surrounded by a lighter area of fur1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. A Degu's eyes are placed at the sides of the head, helping them to be more alert to predators in the wild and dangers in a domestic environment by expanding the field of vision more than species without many natural enemies (i.e. us), while still providing a perfect forward view for regular navigation. The eyes are inconsistent with rodents of the same habits i.e. burrowing, who normally have small eyes to avoid damage when digging. The eyes can become subject to illness such as cataracts, when too many sugary foods are fed.

03Ears

A Degu's Ear The Degu's ears are of moderate size, around 3cm in height, dark with little hair, apart from long strands of hair protecting the ear canal. The ears can get grubby very easily, and as they can not groom them themselves, are kept clean by other Degus in the habitat. Without this attention they can become very poorly, as it is very dangerous for humans to clean due to the delicate thinness of the skin. They are shaped to gain as much aural information as possible1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5)., and stick up whenever the Degu hears a sound they feel to be threatening to attempt to obtain more information.

04Teeth and Mouth

A Degu's Teeth A Degu's Teeth had a distinctive figure 8 pattern, similar to that of Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs which is why it is classified in the Octodon animal species group. A Degu's front teeth should be a yellow - orange colour1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5). which is believed to be due to a Vitamin A and C deficiency in their regular diet2Watts, A. and Addy, M. (2001) 'Tooth discolouration and staining; A review of the literature.' British Dental Journal, 190 (6): 309-316.. White teeth can also indicate a serious disease and a poor diet. The teeth are constantly growing, causing Degu's to gnaw on everything and anything, so suitable toys and wood blocks should be provided. All together Degus have a total of 20 teeth, used for chewing, biting and gnawing1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5)..

05Paws and Feet

A Degu's foot A Degu's feet has 5 toes on each paw, front and back, with rear claws curved and covered in brush-like bristles.1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5). One of the toes on each paw is shorter than the others and used for gripping in the same manner as a human thumb. If a Degu spends too much time on a mesh wire floor the feet can develop a problem called bumble foot which is very painful, so ledges and flat areas must be provided in your Degu's cage. There are small lumps on the palm of the paws that are used for gripping items such as food when eating. A Degus paws and other features are not consistent with other burrowing animals1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5)..

06Tail

A Degu's Tail Degus have a long tail which grows to around 9cm in length, is scaly to the touch and has a small bushy tip1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. As a defence mechanism in the wild, the Degu will shed part of its tail, up to half of the tail, as a way of evading capture when a predator has hold of it. For this reason a Degu should never be handled by the tail, and is better off not being touched at all, as it can be extremely painful, causing a lot of bleeding and distress. This can become infected and will never grow back. If this occurs, usually the Degu will chew and stop the bleeding itself, but a vet visit is always recommended for the welfare of your pet. The tail is primarily used for balance when jumping and climbing, and regulating the body temperature by providing an area for heat to escape or be retained.

07Whiskers and Nose

A Degu's Whiskers A Degu's whiskers, like all other animals, are used for exploration when judging gaps and spaces to determine if it can fit through. Whiskers are very sensitive and should not be played with. The area of the brain used in scent detection is well developed providing a good sense of scent1Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).. The nose is hairless, with females believed to have a better sense of smell than the males due to testosterone having an effect of the strength of smell, although this has not been completely verified at the time of writing.

Sources:

  • Woods, C. and Boraker, D. (1975) 'Octodon degus.' Mammalian Species, 67 (5).
  • Watts, A. and Addy, M. (2001) 'Tooth discolouration and staining; A review of the literature.' British Dental Journal, 190 (6): 309-316.
  • My own knowledge/observations
  • Vet Advice

My Degus

This is the page where I introduce you to my Degus!

I currently have 2 male Degus, named after the characters in the UK television show The Mighty Boosh (a theme among all my pets), Naboo and Bollo

My two Degus, Naboo and Bollo

Naboo

Naboo is the more active, inquisitive and dominant of the 2 degus, who spends less time eating and more time exploring and exercising, especially when the cage door opens. Within a few seconds he will be out of the door, looking for a new place to explore. He is also the Degu more likely to be found on the wheel during the daytime, either sharing it with his brother or running alone for long periods of time, especially when everyone else in the house is trying to sleep!

Bollo

Bollo is the submissive of the 2, slightly larger and more interested in food than anything else, often hiding treats from Naboo and sitting in the treat bowl covering the dandelion leaves or herbs so Naboo can't get at them, although after a little squabble they are normally back sharing again. Bollo likes to use the wheel during the early hours after Naboo has had his fill, not fun while I'm trying to sleep, and loves to sit and nibble on the branches at the bottom of the cage used to access the higher levels. Bollo has a cataract in one eye, probably due to its greedy eating habits (and possibly due to treating them to peanuts too often), although he shows no discomfort due to it. He is not as outgoing as Naboo, and tends to take one step at a time, searching everywhere around him before taking the next step into unknown lands. He likes to site and nibble at his food, taking his time, rather than rushing like Naboo does.

Both love pumpkin seeds and willow sticks, go crazy for dust baths, and enjoy to sleep cuddling up, often in a different place every night/day!

About Us

A Degu posing in a glass Degu World.com was created by a team of Degu lovers who wanted other pet enthusiasts to treat their animals with the care, attention and knowledge they deserve. Having bought up a range of species of animals both small and large, I found Degus to be one of the most intelligent, inquisitive species I have come across. With the lack of a comprehensive, professional site about Degu care, and all other websites being made as hobby websites lacking the correct information and inconsistent statements, pretending to be vets or researchers when upon asking they are actually 16 year olds using some free web space with no real knowledge of the species, Degu World.com was born to provide information, knowledge, and a community for Degu lovers around the world. With constantly updated information as when it is made available, Degu World hopes to be a key resource for owners of these brilliant pets. I hope you enjoy this site as much as we have enjoyed making it. If you would like to contribute to the website please send us an e-mail with suggestions.

 

Richard
Proud Adopter of Naboo and Bollo
Creator of Degu World.com

All pictures have been sourced through my own photography, donated images by our users or off open source public resources such as Wikipedia or Flickr via a Creative Commons License or similar. If you feel an image of yours features on this site which has been wrongly submitted to us or sourced on the wrong license, which allows for use by web publishers of non-commercial websites like www.deguworld.com to use, please contact us immediately and we will do our best to help you.

All content has been sourced from my own knowledge and observations with my own pets, research via internet sites, books, research articles, interaction with vets, pet shops and other Degu owners. Some information which has been trusted to be true from trusted sources may be lacking detail or contain inadvertent errors. If you feel some content has been added in error or is incorrect please inform us.

We are not vets and do not claim to be, and do not provide any medical advice that can not be found in published books (e.g. preventative measures through the correct diet, as opposed to diagnosis and medicine). Any websites which attempt to diagnose, suggest medication or treatment that are not created/ run by a qualified vet are putting your pets at risk with every word they type and need reporting to the relevent authorities e.g. the RSPCA in the UK.

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