Dasyprocta mexicana is found in tropical southern Mexico and Cuba. The native distribution of D. mexicana includes parts of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Campeche, and Chiapas, Mexico. Dasyprocta mexicana was introduced to Pinar del Rio, Sierra de los Organos, and Sierra Cristal, Holguin, Cuba sometime during the 1930s. While it has been established in western Cuba since 1967, as of 2009 no recent sightings exist from eastern Cuba. Localities with sightings between 1990 and 2008 include San Diego de los Banos, Guanahacabibes, and Soroa, Cuba.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Introduced , Native )
Mexican agoutis are rabbit-sized rodents with blackish-brown, slightly grizzled pelage. They have rounded backs and long, thin legs adapted for running. The rump is black, the breast is whitish-brown, and parts of the throat and stomach are white. The shoulders and thighs have denser speckling than the sides. The tail is short, black, and hidden under posterior hair. Their body length ranges from 446 to 557 mm, their tail is between 20 to 30 mm, and most adults weigh between 2 and 5 kg.
The head of Mexican agoutis is black on top and brown on its sides with some minor white speckling. Skin surrounding the eyes is pink and sparsely covered with downy gray or brown hair. The mustache is black and hair on the throat is completely white. Ears are pink at the base, naked and rounded at the tips with the posterior margins somewhat notched. Hairs on the body and neck are brownish-black with two white rings. The overlaying of these ringed hairs produces a mottled appearance. Long black hairs form a line from the middle of the head down along the back, which becomes wider towards its posterior end. Hair next to this line is also long and black but has one white ring. Chest hairs are light brown at the base and white at the tips. Abdominal hairs are brown with a white ring and hair posterior to the abdomen but anterior to the pubic region is either white with a gray base or completely white. The outer front legs are black with speckles and the insides are whitish with gray-based, white-tipped hairs. The fore-feet, which have four toes, are black and flecked with white. The hind feet, which have three toes, are also black with thinly scattered white hairs. At the end of each toe is a hoof-like claw.
Dasyprocta mexicana does not closely resemble any sympatric species. However, it could be confused with other species of agoutis. Dasyprocta mexicana is distinguished from other agoutis by differences in coloration.
Little variation exists among individuals. Juveniles are precocial and look like small adults. One dark brown, grizzled specimen from Tabasco may be a hybrid with Dasyprocta punctata, the Central American agouti. There is no description in the literature of sexual dimorphism, seasonal variation in pelage, recognition of sub-species, or intraspecific polymorphisms.
Range mass: 2 to 5 kg.
Range length: 466 to 587 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean Mangroves Habitat
This taxon is found in the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion, but not necessarily exclusive to this region.The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves occupy a long expanse of disjunctive coastal zone along the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for portions of Central America and Mexico. The ecoregion has a very high biodiversity and species richness of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. As with most mangrove systmems, the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean ecoregion plays an important role in shoreline erosion prevention from Atlantic hurricanes and storms; in addition these mangroves are significant in their function as a nursery for coastal fishes, turtles and other marine organisms.
This disjunctive Neotropical ecoregion is comprised of elements lying along the Gulf of Mexico coastline of Mexico south of the Tampico area, and along the Caribbean Sea exposures of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.There are 507 distinct vertebrate species that have been recorded in the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion.
Chief mangrove tree species found in the central portion of the ecoregion (e.g. Belize) are White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), and Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans); Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) is a related tree associate. Red mangrove tends to occupy the more seaward niches, while Black mangrove tends to dominate the more upland niches. Other plant associates occurring in this central part of the ecoregion are Swamp Caway (Pterocarpus officinalis), Provision Tree (Pachira auatica) and Marsh Fern (Acrostichum aureum).
The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion has a number of mammalian species, including: Mexican Agouti (Dasyprocta mexicana, CR); Mexican Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra, EN); Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii, EN); Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi, EN); Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla); Deppe's Squirrel (Sciurus deppei), who ranges from Tamaulipas, Mexico to the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica; Jaguar (Panthera onca, NT), which requires a large home range and hence would typically move between the mangroves and more upland moist forests; Margay (Leopardus wiedii, NT); Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata); Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus mexicanus, NT), a species found in the mangroves, but who mostly roosts in higher elevation caves; Central American Cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti).
A number of reptiles have been recorded within the ecoregion including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, EN); Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, CR); Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii, CR), distributed along the Atlantic drainages of southern Mexico to Guatemala; Morelets Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii, LR/CD), a crocodile found along the mangroves of Yucatan, Belize and the Atlantic versant of Guatemala.
Some of the other reptiles found in this ecoregion are the Adorned Graceful Brown Snake (Rhadinaea decorata); Allen's Coral Snake (Micrurus alleni); Eyelash Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis schlegelii); False Fer-de-lance (Xenodon rabdocephalus); Blood Snake (Stenorrhina freminvillei); Bridled Anole (Anolis frenatus); Chocolate Anole (Anolis chocorum), found in Panamanian and Colombian lowland and mangrove subcoastal forests; Furrowed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys areolata. NT); Brown Wood Turtle (LR/NT); Belize Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus insularis), which occurs only in this ecoregion along with the Peten-Veracruz moist forests.
Salamanders found in this ecoregion are: Cukra Climbing Salamander (Bolitoglossa striatula); Rufescent Salamander (Bolitoglossa rufescens); Alta Verapaz Salamander (Bolitoglossa dofleini, NT), the largest tropical lungless salamander, whose coastal range spans Honduras, Guatemala and the Cayo District of Belize; Colombian Worm Salamander (Oedipina parvipes), which occurs from central Panama to Colombia; La Loma Salamander (Bolitoglossa colonnea), a limited range taxon occurring only in portions of Costa Rica and Panama;.Central American Worm Salamander (Oedipina elongata), who inhabits very moist habitats; Cienega Colorado Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis, NT), a limited range taxon found only in parts of Costa Rica and Panama, including higher elevation forests than the mangroves; Limon Worm Salamander (Oedipina alfaroi, VU), a restricted range caecilian found only on the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica and extreme northwest Panama. Caecilians found in the ecoregion are represented by: La Loma Caecilian (Dermophis parviceps), an organism found in the Atlantic versant of Panama and Costa Rica up to elevation 1200 metres
Habitat and Ecology
It is mainly diurnal, although sometimes it is seen at night. It is terrestrial. This species eats fruit, soft seeds, and new growth of forest plants. In Veracruz, fruits eaten include figs, hog plums (Spondias mombin), and Brosimum alicastrum. It may be seen alone or in pairs. Pairs occupy territories of 1 to 2 ha. One or two young are born during the dry season. Young are precocious and follow their mother soon after birth (Coates-Estrada and Estrada 1986; Reid 1997).
Dasyprocta mexicana is terrestrial and occurs in subtropical to tropical moist lowland evergreen forest, secondary forest, and cultivated areas. Individuals den in hollowed trunks of fallen trees, under large roots of old trees, under rocks, or in other natural cavities. Dasyprocta mexicana is found at altitudes ranging from 50 to 600 meters above sea level. The latitudinal range is 17.04 to 18.9 degrees and the longitudinal range is -96.86 to -90.12 degrees. However, around 89 percent of the animal’s original habitat has been lost during the last 50 years. Much of the research on D. mexicana has been conducted at Los Tuxtlas biological station in southern Veracruz, Mexico. This station sits at 500 m above sea level and receives around 4900 mm of precipitation per year. Temperatures range from 22 to 27 degrees C with a mean of 25 degrees C. The dry season is from March to May and the rainy season is from mid-June to the end of February.
Range elevation: 50 to 600 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Dasyprocta mexicana is primarily a fruigivore, but also consumes fruits and leaves. It eats new growth plant matter, bark, soft seeds, and fruit from various trees. Dasyprocta mexicana eats the fruits of Spondias mombin (Anacardiaceae), Pseudolmedia oxyphyllaria (Moraceae), Bosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Ficus yoponensis (Moraceae), Astrocaryum mexicanum (Palmae), and Nectandra ambigens (Lauraceae). It also eats the seeds of Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), but not of Pouteria sapota (Sapotaceae). Captive Mexican agoutis eat a wide range of foods including rabbit pellets, peanuts, corn, fruits, and carrots. A study of tree visitation based on records of agouti tracks found a significant number of D. mexicana tracks surrounding Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), and Omphalea oleifera (Euphorbiaceae), suggesting that these tree species are also important food resources.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore )
Dasyprocta mexicana is an important seed disperser and seed predator and is among the most important seed predators at Los Tuxtlas biological reserve in Veracruz, Mexico. A study of tree visitation based on records of agouti tracks found a significant number of D. mexicana tracks surrounding Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), and Omphalea oleifera (Euphorbiaceae), suggesting that these tree species are also important food resources. Dasyprocta mexicana also feeds on bark, and trees can die after agoutis strip a continuous ring of bark around from the base. By eating seedlings and dispersing seeds it can influence composition and spatial distribution of tree species throughout the forests in which they reside. Dasyprocta mexicana is an important food resource for jaguars (Panthera onca) in Mexico. In captivity, it has been parasitized by Echidnophaga fleas, which can cause death by anemia. Native fleas (Rhopalopsyllus australis australis) also feed on D. mexicana. In Cuba, where it is introduced, it poses a potential threat to native flora and fauna. It may compete with the hutia conga (Capromys pilorides) for food and shelter.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
- fleas (Rhopalopsyllus australis australis)
- sticktight fleas (Echidnophaga)
Mexican agoutis escape predation by relying on their speed, and their grizzled coloration helps camouflage them from potential predators. They often have escape holes along the length of fallen trees. These holes have two exits, which allows the agouti to escape through one exit while the predator waits at the other exit. If available, they also use tunnels between closely spaced rocks and other natural cavities. When startled they run away making strange grunts and fluffing their long rump hairs. Sometimes these alarm shrieks alert nearby agoutis who keep a guarded distance if the predator is a cat (Felidae) or a raptor (Falconiformes). However, if the predator is a snake (Serpentes), other agoutis may attack it, jumping and biting. Throughout their range, agoutis are an important food source for jaguars (Panthera onca).
- cats (Felidae)
- birds of prey (Falconiformes)
- snakes (Serpentes)
- jaguar (Panthera onca)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Mexican agoutis make alarm calls by stamping their feet and producing sharp nasal-sounding barks while running away. Many species of agouti (e.g., common agoutis, black agoutis, brown agoutis, and Mexican agoutis) make loud gnawing noises when eating. Currently, no further information exists concerning communication and perception in Mexican agoutis.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
There is little information available on longevity in Mexican agoutis. In captivity, one individual lived for 13.1 years.
Status: captivity: 13.1 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of Mexican agoutis. Breeding pairs produce either one or two offspring each dry season. Young have been observed between the months of January and May.
Mexican agoutis are generally observed alone or in groups of two. A single breeding pair may claim a territory of 1 to 2 hectares and males do not tolerate rivals within their territory. Gestation lasts between 104 and 120 days. More detailed information exists on Central American agoutis, which becomes sexually mature between 6 and 20 months after leaving the nest. Young initially live in small burrows and leave the burrow to nurse.
Breeding interval: Mexican agoutis breed once each year
Breeding season: Mexican agoutis breed during the dry season
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Range gestation period: 104 to 120 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Limited information exists on parental care in Mexican agoutis. However, similar to other mammals, mothers nurse their young until weaning. Young develop quickly and follow their mother after they are born.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Dasyprocta mexicana is currently listed as “Critically Endangered.” This is a rapid change from the 1996 listing of “Lower Risk/near threatened.” Rapid habitat loss is most likely the cause for this rodent’s decline. The population size has decreased by more than 80 percent during the past ten years as habitat has been converted for agricultural and urban use. Unfortunately, D. mexicana is purported to be quite tasty and a favorite among local hunters. Hunting seed predators or seed dispersers may indirectly lead to changes in forest composition and spatial distribution. Other threats to D. mexicana include aquaculture and timber crops, and in part of its native range, much of the land is being used for cattle ranching. A smaller amount has been converted to cultivate coffee, cacao, citrus, bananas, or allspice. Currently, there is no mention of specific actions aimed at the conservation and management of Dasyprocta mexicana.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Dasyprocta mexicana is an agricultural pest of corn. In Cuba, where it was introduced, it also poses a threat to native flora and fauna. It may compete with the hutia conga (Capromys pilorides) for food and shelter. There are no other known adverse affects of D. mexicana on humans.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Dasyprocta mexicana is hunted for meat throughout its range. If D. mexicana were common, it could be kept as a pet. One researcher described his specimen as being very clean and having a “very sweet character.” He found that young animals were easy to tame and they could be kept as pets and allowed to run around free in houses. The researcher kept one as a pet in Europe, but eventually gave it to a museum’s menagerie, where it died. He found that, when frightened by strangers, the specimen would make “enormous leaps” knocking over tables and other objects in his apartment.
Positive Impacts: food
- 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.
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