Agouti

Last updated: April 14, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock.com

The agouti is one of the only animals that can crack open Brazil nut pods!


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Agouti Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Dasyproctidae
Genus
Dasyprocta

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Agouti Conservation Status


Agouti Facts

Name Of Young
Pups
Group Behavior
  • Family units
  • Pair
Fun Fact
The agouti is one of the only animals that can crack open Brazil nut pods!
Biggest Threat
Hunting by humans for meat and other resources
Most Distinctive Feature
Hairy rump with almost no visible tail.
Distinctive Feature
Long legs; rounded ears; large size for a rodent; five toes on front feet, three toes on back feet
Gestation Period
90 to 112 days
Litter Size
1 to 4
Habitat
Mostly forested areas of various types across different habitats based on each species
Predators
Birds of prey, snakes, larger carnivorous mammals such as foxes, coyotes and wolves
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
2 to 4
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
  • Crepuscular
  • Diurnal/Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Fruits, berries and nuts
Type
Some species love Brazil nuts especially
Number Of Species
13
Location
South America, Central America, and far southern Mexico

Agouti Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
  • Dark Brown
  • Cream
  • Orange
  • Olive
  • Light-Brown
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
Up to 20 years in captivity
Weight
4.4 to 11 pounds
Height
Approximately 9 inches
Length
Approximately 20 inches
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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The agouti is one of the only animals that can crack open Brazil nut pods!

Agoutis live in the forests of South America, Central America, and far southern Mexico. They are large rodents that grow up to two feet long and weigh between 4.4 and 11 pounds. They are roughly the size of a jackrabbit. There are currently 13 recognized species of agoutis, making up the Dasyprocta genus. Their scientific name references their hairy rumps. Agoutis have almost no visible tail. They have long legs with three toes on their hind legs and five on the front, although their thumbs are tiny and almost useless. These rodents eat fruits, berries, nuts and other vegetation, and they are essential for seed dispersal within their habitats.

Incredible Agouti Facts

  • Roughly half the agouti species are designated as “data deficient” by the IUCN because so little is known about them.
  • Agoutis live mainly in forests, although the type of forest varies from species to species.
  • Some agouti species spend their whole lives near sea level, while others live at high elevations.
  • These rodents are some of the only animals with teeth strong enough to get through Brazil nut pods.
  • Agoutis use urine sprays for courtship and to find their way through the forest.
  • Most of the agouti species are diurnal or crepuscular, but some are active at night.

Where to Find Agoutis

Agoutis are found mainly in South America, although some species live in Central America, on islands, and as far north as southern Mexico. There is some overlap in the ranges of a few of the species, but most inhabit their own niches. Agoutis tend to stick to forests, although the type of forest can vary by species. Some species live only in low-lying coastal regions, while others live in the highlands or mountains. Because there is so much variation in the locations where agoutis can be found, the best way to provide this information may be to simply break it down by individual species.

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Dasyprocta azarae

Azara’s agouti lives in South America, south of the Amazon River basin, in parts of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and northeastern Argentina. It ranges from near sea level to elevations of approximately 2,300 feet. It lives in lowland forests and in forested areas on the savanna.

Dasyprocta coibae

The Coiban agouti is named for its home, Coiba Island of Panama. The species is endemic to this small island and has been sighted in the forests.

Dasyprocta croconota

The orange agouti lives only in northeastern Brazil, in an area bounded by the Amazon, Tapajós, and Tocantins rivers, as well as two coastal islands at the mouth of the Amazon. It lives in lowland rainforests up to an elevation of approximately 650 feet.



Dasyprocta fuliginosa

The black agouti resides in northwestern South America, in parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. Its range extends approximately 3,300 feet in elevation in the eastern Andes. The black agouti lives in the forests, primarily in areas where fruits are plentiful.

Dasyprocta guamara

The Orinoco agouti lives only in a small, lowland region of Venezuela. It makes its home in marshy forests along the Orinoco delta and stays in areas from sea level up to about 100 feet.

Dasyprocta iacki

Iack’s red-rumped agouti ranges only in a small coastal region in Brazil. It lives in the coastal forests along the Atlantic ocean.

Dasyprocta kalinowskii

Kalinowski’s agouti lives only along the eastern edge of the Andes in southern Peru. It lives at higher elevations than other agoutis, ranging from 3,280 feet to more than 10,100 feet. It sticks to the forests on the mountain slopes.

Dasyprocta leporine

The red-rumped agouti ranges from the northern coast of Venezuela to the southeast, through Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. It has been introduced to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica and Grenada. This agouti resides primarily in fragmented, open forests away from water or heavy vegetation. It is believed that the crested agouti, Dasyprocta cristata, is actually synonymous with Dasyprocta leporine, and that species is no longer recognized as separate by some experts.

Dasyprocta mexicana

The Mexican agouti lives in the lowlands of southern Mexico, along the gulf coast and inland. It inhabits evergreen forests where fruits are plentiful, up to elevations of approximately 1,640 feet. It is also found in Cuba, where it is an introduced species.

Dasyprocta prymnolopha

The black-rumped agouti lives at elevations up to approximately 3,000 feet in much of northeastern Brazil. Its habitat is much more varied than most other agoutis. It lives in deciduous and tropical forests, scrublands, and savannas. It even makes its home in the dry and desert-like Caatinga.

Dasyprocta punctata

The Central American agouti inhabits much of Central America, as its name implies. Its range extends from far southern Mexico, including the Yucatan Peninsula, through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. It also resides in the coastal regions of Colombia, Ecuador and northwestern Venezuela. It has been reported as an introduced species in Cuba and the Cayman Islands. This species lives in various types of forests throughout its range, as well as in gardens and on plantations, at elevations from sea level to approximately 7,900 feet.

Dasyprocta ruatanica

Ruatan Island agouti is endemic to the Roatán Island of Honduras. It lives in the tropical scrub forests common to the mountains on this island.

Dasyprocta variegata

The brown agouti ranges from central Peru, along the eastern side of the Andes, through parts of far western Brazil and northern Bolivia. It lives in forested areas, particularly near Brazil nut trees, and in gardens and plantations.  

Scientific Name

Agoutis are rodents that belong to the genus Dasyprocta. They are part of the Dasyproctidae family, along with the acouchis, which belong to the genus, Myoproctus. The name of the agouti genus, Dasyprocta, is derived from Greek roots. The word “dasus” means hairy or shaggy. “Proktos” refers to the rump.

The familiar name, agouti derived from either the Tupi language or the Guarani. Both are indigenous South American languages common to the areas where agoutis are found.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources currently recognizes 13 different agouti species. These include the following: Azara’s agouti, Dasyprocta azarae; the Coiban agouti, Dasyprocta coibae; the black agouti, Dasyprocta fuliginosa; the Orinoco agouti, Dasyprocta guamara; Kalinowski’s agouti, Dasyprocta kalinowskii; the red-rumped agouti, Dasyprocta leporine; the Mexican agouti, Dasyprocta mexicana; the black-rumped agouti, Dasyprocta prymnolopha; the Central American agouti, Dasyprocta punctata; the Ruatan Island agouti, Dasyprocta ruatanica; and the brown agouti, Dasyprocta variegata.

The Central American agouti has nearly 20 recognized subspecies, the most of any of the agouti species by far. The brown agouti was previously listed as a subspecies of the Central American agouti, but is now thought to be a separate and distinct species. The crested agouti, Dasyprocta cristata, is no longer recognized by the IUCN as a separate species, but is now thought to be synonymous with the red-rumped agouti.

Appearance

Agoutis are small animals, but quite large as rodents are concerned. They can grow up to 24 inches long and weigh, on average, around 8.8 pounds. This is roughly the size of an adult jackrabbit. They look a lot like huge squirrels with no tails. They actually do have tails, but they are so small as to be practically nonexistent.

These rodents have short, rounded ears, similar to those of a mouse. Their heads are stout and rat-like. Their hind legs are long, and their front legs are shorter. They have five toes on their front feet, including four functional fingers and a vestigial thumb. Their front feet are much better adapted for walking on the ground than for climbing. They have only three toes on their hind feet.  

The coloration of an agouti varies from species to species. Some appear almost totally black, while others are lighter brown, orange, red, cream, white, or even greenish in color. They cover their coats in oil that helps to waterproof their bodies. This gives them a somewhat shimmery appearance, especially in the light.

An Agouti (Dasyprocta azarae) eating a little coconut.

An Agouti (Dasyprocta azarae) eating a little snack.

©Marcelo Morena/Shutterstock.com

As their scientific name suggests, these rodents have shaggy rumps. The hair on their hind ends grows longer than that on the rest of their body, and depending on the species, it may be a strikingly different color. Agoutis can raise the hair on their behinds to make themselves appear bigger.

Behavior

Agoutis are mainly diurnal, but they are sometimes seen at night. Most agoutis stick to the forests, with many preferring more open or disturbed forests. They tend to stay where food is plentiful. They form pairs, live in family groups with their offspring, and communicate with one another by using squeals, screams, and grunts. When alarmed, they will also engage in posturing with a raised front paw.

These rodents move fast enough that they are able to outrun hunting dogs. Their offspring can run within about an hour after they are born. Agoutis can also swim well and can jump up to six feet straight up from a stand.

Agoutis are generally shy. They avoid contact with humans, although several species have been spotted regularly in gardens or on plantations.

Diet

Agoutis are known as frugivores. That means they live on a diet consisting mainly of fruits. They eat a variety of fruits, as well as leaves, roots, and other vegetation. They also consume various nuts. Agoutis generally forage on the forest floor, but they will sometimes climb trees to obtain green fruit.

The agouti is one of the only animals with teeth strong enough to break through Brazil nut pods to get the delicious goodies inside. This means they are also an essential part of seed dispersal for the giant Brazil nut trees, along with many other trees and plants within their habitats. Agoutis eat freshly fallen nuts and fruits, as well as morsels buried in the soil on the forest floor. They actively store food in caches for times when resources are less plentiful.

Reproduction

The agouti courting ritual may seem disgusting to most of us, but it seems to work for them. The male red-rumped agouti initiates courting by spraying urine all over the female multiple times. If she accepts his advances, the pair will mate for life. They make a nest or burrow lined with leaves, roots, and hair, into which a litter of one to four pups is born following a gestational period of around 90 days. The gestational period for all agouti species averages around 112 days. Agouti babies are precocious, covered in the same hair as their parents and able to run and hide within about an hour after they are born.

Predators

Agoutis are prey to a variety of birds and snakes. Larger carnivores such as foxes, coyotes, and wolves also prey on these large rodents. Humans, too, often kill and eat agoutis. They also harvest them for their pelts and skins. Agoutis have long been hunted for meat and other resources, contributing to the decline in population of some species.

Lifespan

Some agouti species, such as the red-rumped agouti, can live up to 20 years in captivity. We know little about the average lifespan of most of the agouti species in the wild. Not much is known about the population level of many of the species, either. Some are considered stable, or in decline, but none have clear estimates of current numbers of mature individuals.

The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species lists several agouti species as “data deficient.” This means that there is simply not enough information to even determine what is happening with the population of the species as of the last assessment. Four species are classified as “least concern,” including the black agouti (Dasyprocta fuliginosa), the red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporine), the black-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta prymnolopha), and the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata).

The Coiban agouti (Dasyprocta coibae) and the Orinoco agouti (Dasyprocta guamara) are both listed as “near threatened.” The Ruatan Island agouti (Dasyprocta ruatanica) is listed as “endangered” and the Mexican agouti (Dasyprocta Mexicana) is listed as “critically endangered.” Both of these are also decreasing in population.

The most effective conservation efforts for the agouti species in decline may be in the form of captive breeding programs in zoos or other preserves. Even the more stable species may benefit from breeding programs. These efforts could allow people to easily harvest captive agoutis for meat, leaving the wild population to thrive.  

Agouti as a Descriptive Term

The term, agouti, is often used to describe a banded color pattern in other animal species. From fancy mice to dog and cat breeds, agouti coats are often desirable traits. However, the agouti gene can also increase an animals chances of obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

Agouti FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do agoutis look like?

Agoutis look like large squirrels without tails. They are roughly the size of jackrabbits, but they have small, rounded ears and large, hairy rumps. They have long legs with three toes on their back feet and five on the front.

How big are agoutis?

Agoutis are about 4.4 to 11 pounds. They stand about 9 inches high on average and are about 20 inches in length.

How fast do agoutis run?

Agoutis reportedly run fast enough to regularly outrun hunting dogs.

How many varieties of agoutis exist?

There are currently 13 recognized species of agoutis.

What makes agoutis special?

The agouti is one of the only animals that can crack open Brazil nut pods.

Where do agoutis live?

Agoutis live primarily in forests of various types across portions of South America, Central America, and far southern Mexico. Some are endemic to islands. Some live in low-lying coastal regions, others live on mountain slopes. Habitats vary widely based on the species.

What do agoutis eat?

Agoutis eat mostly fruits, berries, nuts and other forms of vegetation.

How many offspring do agoutis have?

Agoutis usually have one to four babies per litter.

What do baby agoutis look like?

Baby agoutis look like miniature versions of their parents. They are born with the same type of hair and can run within an hour of birth.

How long do agoutis live?

Agoutis can live up to 20 years in captivity.

Are agoutis rare?

Agoutis are listed variously by the IUCN Red List. About half the known species are listed as data deficient because not enough is known to make a determination. Four are listed as species of least concern and are not considered rare. Two are listed as near threatened, one is listed as endangered, and another is listed as critically endangered. These species are definitely rare.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System, Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=584734#null
  2. Animal Reproduction, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8203115/
  3. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/red-rumped-agouti

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