The popular term (Common) Agouti designates several rodent species of the genus Dasyprocta that inhabit areas of Middle America, the West Indies, and northern South America. They are related to guinea pigs and look quite similar but have longer legs. The species vary in color from tawny to dark brown with lighter underparts. Their body is covered with coarse hair which is raised when alarmed. They are about 20 in. in length with a short hairless tail.
Agoutis have five front and three hind toes; the first toe is very small. The tail is very short or non-existent and hairless. The molar teeth have cylindrical crowns, with several islands and a single lateral fold of enamel. Agoutis may grow to be up to 60 cm in length and 4 kg (9 lbs) in weight. Most species have a brown back and a whitish or buffy belly; the fur may have a glossy appearance and then glimmers in an orange colour. Reports differ as to whether they are diurnal or nocturnal animals.
Behaviour and habitats
In the wild they are shy animals and flee from humans, while in captivity they may become trusting. In Trinidad they are renowned for being very fast running and able to keep hunting dogs occupied chasing them for days.
Agoutis are found in forest and wooded areas in Middle and South America. Their habitat includes rainforests, savannas and, nowadays, cultivated fields, depending on the species. They conceal themselves at night in hollow tree-trunks or in burrows among roots. Active and graceful in their movements, their pace is either a kind of trot or a series of springs following one another so rapidly as to look like a gallop. They take readily to water, in which they swim well.
When feeding, agoutis sit on their hind legs and hold food between their forepaws. They may gather in groups of up to 100 to feed. They eat fallen fruit, leaves and roots although they may sometimes climb trees to eat green fruit. They will hoard food in small buried stores. In a pinch, they have also been seen eating the eggs of ground-nesting birds and even shellfish on the seashore. Sometimes they can cause damage to sugarcane and banana plantations. They are regarded as one of the few species that can open Brazil nuts without tools, mainly thanks to their strength and exceptionally sharp teeth. Macaws are also able to open Brazil nuts without the aid of tools.
Agoutis give birth to litters of two to four young after a gestation period of three months. Some species have two litters a year in May and October while others breed year round. Young are born into burrows lined with leaves, roots and hair. They are well developed at birth and may be up and eating within an hour. Fathers are barred from the nest while the young are very small, but the parents pair bond for the rest of their lives. They can live for as long as twenty years, a remarkably long time for a rodent.
- Azara's Agouti, Dasyprocta azarae
- Coiban Agouti, Dasyprocta coibae
- Crested Agouti, Dasyprocta cristata
- Black Agouti, Dasyprocta fuliginosa
- Orinoco Agouti, Dasyprocta guamara
- Kalinowski's Agouti, Dasyprocta kalinowskii
- Brazilian Agouti, Dasyprocta leporina
- Mexican Agouti, Dasyprocta mexicana
- Black-rumped Agouti, Dasyprocta prymnolopha
- Central American Agouti, Dasyprocta punctata
- Ruatan Island Agouti, Dasyprocta ruatanica
- Mendes, John. (1986). Cote ce Cote la: Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary. Arima, Trinidad.
- Woods, C. A. and C. W. Kilpatrick. 2005. Hystricognathi. pp 1538–1600 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference 3rd ed. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Agouti.|
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