The agouti resembles a giant guinea pig, being short-tailed and rather round of body, a little bigger than a
rabbit. It is a type of rodent, classified in the its own family, Agoutidae. Their taxonomy is poorly known,
and most are put in the same genus, Dasyprocta. There are four or five recognized species in lowland
Amazonia. (The exact number depends on how the species' ranges are measured.) However, they are highly
variable so this classification is likely to change. Most agouti species are defined by their geographic
location rather than their appearance, which makes life rather difficult for scientists. Like other large
rainforest rodents, the agoutis are long-legged with straight, bristly hair and lacking a tail. Their large
heads bear small ears but bulging jaw muscles.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Agoutis occur in lowland rainforest throughout Bolivia and southern Brazil into Central
America. They are limited by high mountains; the Andes to the west and the Argentinian
pampas to the south. The black agouti (D. fuliginosa photo) and the red-rumped agouti (D. agouti)
are the most widespread Amazon species, respectively found in eastern and western portions of the river
Agoutis thrive in a wide range of habitats, from old growth rainforest to disturbed areas and even fields,
gardens and plantations. They prefer areas with dense undergrowth that can afford them cover. Forest edges
such as treefalls, along streams and rivers and swampy areas are best. If threatened the agouti will
run to the nearest stilt palm (photo), finding refuge within its dense root system. (See for an
idea of how this works.) They are easiest to see at dawn or dusk when they are more active and the poor light
makes it harder for them to see.
FEEDING AND DIET
They typically chew their food while sitting on their haunches. They are rather specialist feeders, not
eating much besides include fruits and nuts that have fallen from the tree canopy above. In the manner of squirrels
the agouti buries nuts here and there to dig up later during food shortages. Of course, much of the cache is
forgotten, whereupon the seed sprouts to begin the tree's cycle of life over again.
Like most rodents, agoutis tend to solitary ways. Some species form monogamous
pairs, and will defend a territory occupied by the pair and its young. The newborn live in a den that the mother
does not enter; she calls them out instead.
Where they are not hunted, agoutis are locally quite abundant, and an important part of the forest ecosystem. Around
villages and towns, the agouti is a favorite prey for hunters and so may become scarce near inhabited areas. The
greatest threat to agoutis is destruction of their forest habitat.