Agoutis are medium sized rodents, about the size of a rabbit, with long, thin legs and a squirrel-like face. Their bodies are slender in the front and bulkier in the rear. There are two genera (JEN-uh-rah; plural of genus, a group of related animals): Dasyprocta and Myoprocta. Agoutis have a head and body length of 12.6 to 25.2 inches (32 to 64 centimeters) and weigh 1.3 to 8.8 pounds (0.6 to four kilograms). They have a large head, plump body, and glossy fur. Their faces have prominent noses with whiskers, large eyes, and small ears positioned high on their head.
The tail on Dasyprocta species is a barely visible nub, while the tail on Myoprocta species is longer and readily visible. There is a wide range of colors within agoutis. In most species, the fur on their lower bodies is usually white, yellow, or buff. Their upper body fur ranges from pale orange, several shades of brown, to black. Several species have faint stripes. Their hind legs have three toes and are longer than their front legs, which have four toes. All toes have sharp, hoof-like claws.
Agoutis are found from southern Mexico to southern Bolivia and northern Argentina. Their range includes Brazil, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Venezuela. They have also been introduced into the Cayman Islands.
Agoutis are found throughout the forests of Central and South America, usually in areas with heavy brush, and near streams, rivers, ponds, and marshy areas. They generally graze in open areas and grassland.
Agoutis are primarily herbivores, meaning they are plant-eaters, although they will occasionally eat seafood. Their diet consists primarily of fruit. They also eat tender leaf plants, seeds, wild vegetables, freshwater crabs, and fungi. They have extremely hard teeth, which they use to crack open nuts, including the tough Brazil nut.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
The agouti is diurnal, meaning it is most active during the day. Agoutis are fast and agile. Their movements include walking, trotting, galloping, and they can jump up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) from a stationary position. They live mostly on the ground, making nests inside hollow logs or under aboveground tree roots. They also make burrows under stream banks.
Agoutis have a remarkable sense of direction and are able to find nuts or fruits easily, even months after they have buried them. In the wild, the agoutis’ main predators are jaguars, ocelots, snakes, birds of prey, cats, dogs, and humans. In the wild, agoutis have a lifespan of thirteen to twenty years.
Agoutis are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), meaning they mate with only one partner during a period of time, and mate for life. They are able to breed throughout the year but especially when there is an abundance of fruit. Agoutis reach puberty, the age of sexual maturity, at six months. The female agouti has one or two litters per year, each consisting of one to four babies. Her gestation period, the time she carries her young in the womb, is 104 to 120 days.
AGOUTIS AND PEOPLE
Agoutis are hunted for their meat and skin. They are important seed dispersers in the tropical forests of South America. They can also be tamed as pets.
Two species, the Ruatan Island agouti and the Coiban agouti are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, by the IUCN. Azara’s agouti is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, by the IUCN. No other species are considered currently threatened by the IUCN.