Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: up to 2 feet (62 centimeters)
Weight: up to 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms)
Life span: up to 17 years
Gestation: 3 months
Number of young at birth: 1 to 4
Conservation status: Coiban agouti Dasyprocta coibae and Ruatan Island agouti Dasyprocta ruatanica are endangered.
Take a bite out of this: the agouti is the only animal that can crack open the hard outer shell of a Brazil nut.
• Ew! What's that smell? The coarse hair on an agouti contains very stinky oil.
• The word "agouti" is also used to describe hair on a rodent or other animal that has alternating bands of dark and light colors.
• Agoutis are good swimmers but cannot dive.
Really cute rodent
The agouti (ah GOO tee) is a rodent from Central and South America rain forests that looks a bit like a really large guinea pig. Its coarse hair is covered with an oily substance that acts like a raincoat. The hair is longest on its rump. The agouti has five toes on its front feet and three on the hind feet. It walks on its toes, not flat-footed like many rodents, giving the agouti a dainty look. Although it is hard to see it, the agouti does have a tail: it is very small, looking like a dark jelly bean stuck on the animal's rump!
Just like other rodents, agoutis have teeth designed to gnaw on very hard items, with one pair of sharp incisors in the front of the mouth. These are the teeth they use to chew through tough items like nutshells. The layers of enamel on their teeth are twisted in a way that make them much stronger. Brazil nuts may be hard for us to crack, but they pose no problem for an agouti! The sharp incisors keep growing throughout the agouti's lifetime, ensuring that the animal always has nut cracking tools at the ready! Agoutis use their molars to grind food items.
Keeping ears—and noses—open
It can be hard to see in a dark rain forest habitat, so the agouti marks its territory with urine as a smelly way to tell other agoutis to keep out. Much of this rodent's time is spent searching for food or taking a dip in a pool of water. At rest, the agouti stays in a burrow or hollow tree trunk, safe from predators such as coatimundis, jaguars, and ocelots. Sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell help the agouti prepare when a predator is near: it may freeze, make an alarm call, stamp its feet, or raise the long hairs on its rump to scare the enemy away. To make an escape, an agouti can run pretty quickly. More amazingly, this rodent can jump up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) straight up in the air from a standing position, spin around, land, and dash off in the opposite direction!
Gotta love leftovers
Fallen fruit is the agouti's favorite food, with nuts a close second. Its sensitive ears can even hear when the fruit hits the ground! The agouti often eats upright, holding its food with the front feet, just like a squirrel. When there's lots of food, an agouti buries the extra portions around its territory for future meals. That keen nose helps the animal locate the food again in times of need. If the agouti buries a nut and never returns to eat it, the nut just might grow into a tree, making agoutis good rain forest gardeners! At the San Diego Zoo, agoutis receive high fiber herbivore pellets, leafeater biscuits, leafy greens, and some fruits and veggies.
Young and furry
An agouti pair-bonds with another agouti for life. After a three-month gestation period, a litter of one to four precocial babies are born in a nest of leaves, roots, and hair, looking just like a miniature of mom and dad. They can run just an hour after birth and usually stay with their parents until the next litter is born.
Keys to tree survival
Agoutis may play a vital role in the survival of Brazil nut trees and the people who depend on the trees in remote areas of South America. Brazil nuts bring in millions of dollars each year. Remember, agoutis are the only animals that can open the thick husk to allow the seeds to sprout. If the agouti population declines, it could have an effect on a rain forest's health. Currently, some agouti subspecies are endangered because they are being hunted for food, the introduction of disease and pollutants, and the loss of their habitat.