Agouti (Dasyprocta) or golden South American hare is a medium-sized animal from the order of rodents. It happens that the animal is called a humpback hare for its metallic color and fast running, but, despite the name, the agouti looks more like a guinea pig with outstretched limbs. The animal swims well and prefers to settle near water bodies. You can learn about other interesting features of the rodent from this publication.
The origin of the species and description
The term Agouti itself comes from Spanish: agutí – refers to several species of rodents of the genus Dasyprocta. These animals are native to Central America, northern and central South America, and the southern Lesser Antilles. They are related to guinea pigs and look very similar but are larger and have longer legs.
Interesting fact: In West Africa (especially in Côte d'Ivoire), the name “agouti” refers to a large cane rat, which, as an agricultural pest, is consumed as a delicacy of wild animals.
The Spanish name “agouti” is borrowed from the South American indigenous Tupi-Guarani languages, which spell the name variously as agutí, agotí, or acutí. The popular Brazilian Portuguese term for these animals, cutia, comes from this original name. In Mexico, agouti is called sereke. In Panama it is known as eeque, and in eastern Ecuador — like guatusa.
There are 11 species in the genus:
- D. azarae – Agouti Azara;
- D. coibae – Coiban;
- D. cristata – Crested;
- D. fuliginosa – Black;
- D. guamara – Orinoco;
- D. kalinowskii – Agouti Kalinowski;
- D. leporina – Brazilian;
- D. mexicana – Mexican;
- D. prymnolopha – Black-backed;
- D. punctata – Central American;
- D. ruatanica – Roatan.
Appearance and Features
The appearance of the rodent is inimitable – it combines the features of short-eared hares and guinea pigs. The back of the animal is rounded (humped), the head is elongated, the rounded ears are small, short hairless tails are hidden behind long hair and are almost invisible. The animal has naked, rounded ears, bare feet, wide, horseshoe-like nails and 4 molars at the top and bottom.
All species vary considerably in color: brown, reddish, dull orange, grayish or blackish, but usually with lighter underparts and sides. Their bodies are covered with coarse, thick hair that rises when the animal is alarmed. They weigh 2.4–6 kg and are 40.5–76 cm long.
Interesting fact: Agouti's front paws have five toes, but only three toes on their hind paws. hoof-like claws.
Caught at a young age, they are easily tamed, but they are hunted just like hares. Most species are brown on the back and whitish on the belly. The fur may have a glossy appearance and then shimmer with an orange light. Females have four pairs of ventral mammary glands. Minor changes in appearance can be observed within the same species. Juveniles look like small adults.
Where does the agouti live?
The animal Dasyprocta punctata, commonly known as the Central American agouti, is found from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. The main part of the range extends from the state of Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula (southern Mexico) through Central America to northwestern Ecuador, Colombia and the far west of Venezuela. Highly disjunct populations are found in southeastern Peru, southwestern Brazil, Bolivia, western Paraguay, and extreme northwest Argentina. Some species have also been introduced elsewhere in the West Indies. Agoutis have also been introduced to Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Cayman Islands.
These rodents live mainly in rainforests and other wet areas such as swamps. It is rare to find them in the open steppe pampas. They prefer to settle in places with enough water. Central American agoutis are found in forests, thickets, savannahs, and cultivated areas. In Peru, they are limited to the Amazon region, where they are found in all parts of the low rainforest zone and in many parts of the high rainforest zone (up to 2000 meters).
Agoutis are closely related to water and are often found on the banks of streams, rivers, and lakes. They often build dens and numerous sleeping quarters in hollow logs, among limestone boulders, under tree roots or other vegetation. The species is most numerous in Guiana, Brazil and northern Peru.
Now you know where the agouti animal lives. Let's see what he eats.
What does agouti eat?
The animals mainly feed on fruits and look for fruit-bearing trees during their daily excursions. When food is plentiful, they carefully bury the seeds to use as food when fruit becomes scarce. This behavior is helpful in sowing the seeds of many species of forest trees. These animals often follow groups of monkeys and gather fruits dropped from trees.
Fun Fact: Agoutis have been documented to hear fruits falling from trees from afar and are attracted to the sound of ripe fruits falling to the ground. Therefore, rodent hunters have come up with an effective way to lure the animal. To do this, they throw a stone on the ground, simulating falling fruit.
The animals sometimes eat crabs, vegetables, and some succulent plants. They can deftly break hard brazil nuts, so they are very important for the distribution of these plant species in the environment.
The main diet of the agouti is:
These rodents help restore forests, just like local squirrels. But they can also cause significant damage to sugarcane plantations and banana plantations, which they use for food. As more forest land is used for agricultural purposes, the agouti is increasingly consuming the crops of local farmers. Agoutis feed by sitting on their hind legs and holding food in their front paws. They then turn the fruit over several times while brushing it with their teeth. If there are any leftover parts of the fruit that are not eaten at the end of the meal, the agouti hides them.
Character and lifestyle features
The agouti's basic social unit consists of a pair that mates throughout life. Each pair occupies a fixed area of approximately 1-2 hectares, which has fruit trees and a water source. The size of the territory depends on the food supply of the habitat. When other agoutis enter the claimed territory, they are usually chased away by the male. Territorial defense sometimes involves fierce fighting that results in serious injury.
Fun fact: When aggressive, rodents sometimes raise their long ass hair, hit the ground with their hind legs, or use a lot of sounds, the most common of which sound like the barking of a small dog.
These rodents are primarily diurnal animals, but may switch their activities to night hours if they are hunted or frequently disturbed by humans. They can jump vertically. Sitting upright, the agouti can rush at full speed if needed. Agouti can move with amazing speed and agility.
They build dwellings under rocks or trees. Agoutis are social animals that devote a lot of time to mutual grooming. Animals devote a lot of time grooming to remove fleas, ticks and other parasites. The front paws are used for raking the hair and pulling it out within reach of the incisors, which are then used as a comb. The undaunted agouti trots or hops in several short hops. It can also swim and often be near water.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Agoutis live in stable pairs that stay together until one member of the pair dies. Sexual maturity occurs towards the end of the first year of life. Often only one individual can be seen, as the members of the pair are not in close contact with each other. The animals breed throughout the year, but most of the young are born during fruit abundance from March to July. Some species may breed several times a year in May and October, while others breed throughout the year.
Interesting fact: During courtship, the male sprays the female with urine, which causes her to enter into a “crazy dance”. After a few splashes, she allows the male to approach her.
The gestation period is 104-120 days. A litter usually contains two cubs, although sometimes there may be three or four individuals. Females dig holes for their young or bring them to old dens they have built, usually located in hollow logs, among tree roots, or under intertwined vegetation. The young are born in burrows lined with leaves, roots and hair. They are well developed at birth and can start eating within an hour. The fathers are removed from the nest. The den exactly matches the size of the offspring. As the cubs grow, the mother moves the litter to a large den. Females have several dens.
Newborns are completely covered with hair, their eyes are open, and they can run in the first hour of life. The mother usually breastfeeds for 20 weeks. The offspring are completely separated from their mother after a new litter. This is due to parental aggression or lack of food. Cubs born during the fruiting period have a significantly higher chance of survival than those born in the off-season.
Agouti's natural enemies
Agoutis are preyed upon by medium to large carnivores in their entire range, including humans. They avoid predation by being vigilant and agile in dense undergrowth, their coloring also helps to hide from potential predators. In the wild, they are shy animals running away from people, while in captivity they can become very trusting. They are known to be very fast runners, able to keep hunting dogs chasing them for hours. They also have excellent hearing, which can save them from predators.
Agoutis have escape holes in fallen trees. These holes have two exits, which allows the rodent to exit through one exit while the predator waits for it at the other exit. If possible, they also use tunnels between closely spaced rocks and other natural cavities. In fright, they run away, making strange grunts.
The enemies of the agouti include:
- bush dog (S. venaticus);
- ocelot (L. pardalis);
- puma (Puma concolor);
- jaguar (Panthera onca).
If the animal is in danger, they stop motionless with their front leg raised and wait for the threat to disappear. Agouti can move with amazing speed and agility. They are an important part of the ecosystem as they are prey for medium to large predators such as eagles and jaguars. They play an important role in promoting the regeneration of tropical fruit trees through seed dispersal.
However, like many other animals, the biggest threat to the animal comes from humans. It is the destruction of their natural habitat and the hunting of their flesh. In the event of an attack, the animal either kills itself or tries to hide in zigzags, changing the trajectory of its movement.
Smells play an important role in communication between individuals. Both males and females possess anal scent glands, used to indicate different environmental structures. Agoutis have good eyesight and hearing. They use tactile communication through grooming.
Population and species status
In some areas, agouti populations have declined significantly due to hunting and habitat destruction. But these rodents are widespread today and are one of the most commonly found species in much of their range. Most species are classified as least endangered in terms of breadth of range, large abundance, presence in a number of protected areas.
The animal is attacked by people, on the one hand, because it often enters the plantations and devastates them, on the other hand, because of the delicious meat, they are hunted by the indigenous population, who are accustomed to eating them. Darwin described agouti meat as “the most delicious of all that he tasted in his life.” Meat is eaten in Guyana, Trinidad, Brazil. It is white, juicy, tender and fatty.
Of the 11 species of agouti, the following four are considered at risk:
- Orinoco agouti (D. guamara) — ; low risk;
- Koiban agouti (D. coibae) — endangered;
- Roatan agouti (D. ruatanica) — high risk;
- Mexican agouti (D. mexicana) — endangered.
These animals are very attached to their habitats, so they often fall prey to dogs and other invasive animals. The rapid loss of habitat is likely to cause the decline of this rodent in the near future. Some species have been declining in numbers over the past ten years as habitat has been converted for agricultural use and due to urban growth. Hunting predators or seed dispersers can indirectly change the composition and spatial distribution of the forest.
At present, there is no mention of specific actions aimed at the conservation of the agouti. Other threats include aquaculture and forest crops, and in particular much of the land in its natural range is used for cattle ranching. A smaller number have been converted to grow coffee, cocoa, citrus fruits, bananas or allspice.