Featured Creature: Chevrotain

Featured Creature: Chevrotain

What creature is the world’s smallest ungulate?

The chevrotain!

Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The chevrotain is an incredibly unique animal native to India and Southeast Asia. This creature is just 12 inches tall and about 29 inches long – the size of a rabbit. It weighs approximately 4-11 pounds and sports a reddish-chestnut brown coat with white markings on its chest. The chevrotain is the world’s smallest hoofed mammal. The chevrotain is also called the mouse-deer, but is not related to either a mouse or deer. Entirely a species of its own, the chevrotain is a one-of-a-kind creature.

There are ten species of chevrotain, nine of which reside in Asia while one – the water chevrotain – is native to Africa, spanning from Southern Benin to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This particular species lives near rivers and lakes as its name implies. When threatened, the water chevrotain will submerge itself underwater for up to four minutes to escape a predator. All chevrotains are very small with the tiniest being the lesser Malay chevrotain at 4 pounds and the largest being the water chevrotain at 33 pounds.

Photo by P. Jeganathan (CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)


These miniature ungulates are herbivores and feed on vegetation like grasses, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruit. The chevrotain is a ruminant and has a 4 chambered stomach similar to that of a cow’s. This stomach helps digest fibrous plant material and extract nutrients from plant matter. Chevrotains inhabit jungles and forage for low hanging and fallen fruit as well as ground plants that are easy to reach due to their short stature. 


Despite looking like mini-deer, chevrotains do not have antlers. Instead, they have elongated incisors. In males, these teeth protrude beyond the mouth like tusks which are used when fighting. Chevrotains also  use their long fangs to expose roots for consumption.

Photo by Vassil (via Wikimedia Commons)

Jungle Ghosts

Chevrotains are known for being solitary, quiet, and difficult to find amongst dense forests. One species in particular has remained hidden from scientists for nearly 30 years – until recently. The silver-backed chevrotain, native to Vietnam, had not been seen for decades, despite camera traps and excursions to find the creature. But in 2017, that all changed. A camera trap captured the elusive silver-backed chevrotain, the first sighting since 1990. Still, so little is known about this species that the IUCN has assigned the status of “data deficient”. 

Conservation ensures that no species is lost to history and reinforces the importance of a diverse ecosystem where every organism has a vital role to play. Even when all hope seems lost, life finds a way.

Treading quietly away for now,

Joely Hart is a wildlife enthusiast writing to inspire curiosity about Earth’s creatures. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Central Florida and has a special interest in obscure, lesser-known species.

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