Dasyprocta punctataCentral American agouti

Geographic Range

Dasyprocta punctata, commonly known as Central American agoutis, is found from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, and has been introduced to the Cayman Islands.

Habitat

Central American agoutis are found in forests, thick brush, savannas, and cultivated areas. In Peru, they are confined to the Amazonian region where they are found in all parts of the low selva rainforest zone and many parts of the high selva zone (altitudes of up to 2,000 meters) (Nowak 1999). Agoutis are closely associated with water and often found along the banks of streams, rivers and lakes. They often build dens and numerous sleeping spots in hollow logs, among limestone boulders, under roots of trees or other vegetation.

Physical Description

The coat ranges from pale orange to several shades of brown or blackish dorsally, and yellowish to white ventrally. The rump is a contrasting color. In some individuals inconspicuous stripes may be present. The fur of the agouti is course yet glossy. The hairs increase in length from the anterior to the posterior part of the body. The body length ranges from 415-620 mm and the tail is 10-35 mm. The weight ranges from 1.3-4.0 kg. The body form of the Central American agouti is slender. They have short ears, and the hind foot has three toes with hoof-like claws (Nowak 1999). Females have four pairs of ventral mammae (Nowak 1999).

  • Range mass
    1.000 to 4.000 kg
    2.20 to 8.81 lb

Reproduction

Central American agoutis are monogamous. During courtship, the male sprays the female with urine, which causes her to go into a "frenzy dance." After several sprays she allows the male to approach (Smythe 1978).

Central American agoutis breed throughout the year, but the majority of the young are born during the time of year when fruit is most plentiful between March and July. Individuals in some populations of agoutis mate twice a year.

The gestation period is 104-120 days. A litter normally contains two young, though there are sometimes three and four young have been recorded in captivity.

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding interval is determined by fruit abundance.
  • Breeding season
    Populations typically breed throughout the year.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    1.9
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    90 to 126 days
  • Average weaning age
    140 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    487 days
    AnAge

The females dig caves for their young or bring them to old lairs they constructed usually located in hollow logs, among tree roots, or under tangled vegetation. The dens often exactly match the size of the young (Grzimek 1990). As the offspring grow, the mother relocates the litter to a larger den. The female has its own den apart from the young.

The newborn are fully furred, their eyes are open, and they are able to run in their first hour of life (Smythe 1978).

The mother usually nurses for 20 weeks. Offspring become completely separated from the mother upon the arrival of a new litter, because of parental aggression, or due to lack of food. Young born during the fruiting season have a substantially greater chance of surviving than those born during the off season.

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little information on lifespan in agoutis.

Behavior

The basic social unit of the agouti is made up of a pair that mate with one another for life. Each pair occupies a territory of approximately 1-2 hectares which contain fruiting trees, and a source of water. When other agoutis enter a claimed territory they are driven off, usually by the male. Territorial defense sometimes includes vicious fighting which results in serious wounds. When behaving aggressively, an agouti sometimes erects the long hairs of its rump, thumps the ground with its hind legs or uses a number of vocalizations, the most common of which sounds like that of the bark of a small dog (Nowak, 1999).

Agoutis are basically diurnal, but shift their activities to night hours if they are hunted or commonly bothered by people. They walk, trot, or gallop on their digits and can jump vertically at least two meters from a standing start (Nowak 1999). They often sit in an erect position, from which they can dart out of at a full speed if necessary. If danger threatens, they pause motionless with one forefoot raised. Agoutis can move with remarkable speed and agility (Nowak 1999).

Agoutis devote considerable time to grooming to remove parasites, ticks and mites. The forefeet are used to rake the hair and draw it within reach of the incisors which are then used as a comb (Smythe 1978). Grooming among pairs occurs on occasion.

Communication and Perception

Odors play an important role in agouti communication. Both males and females posses anal scent glands used to mark various structures of the environment (Smythe 1978). Agouti also have good vision, hearing, and use tactile communication through grooming.

Food Habits

Agoutis mainly feed on fruits and, on their daily excursions, look for fruit-bearing trees (Grzimek 1990). It has been recorded that agoutis are able to hear fruit falling from trees from far away, and the sound of ripe fruit hitting the ground attracts them (Grzimek 1990). When food is abundant, they carefully bury seeds to use as food when fruit is scarce or not in season. This behavior is important in the dispersal of the seeds of many species of forest trees (Macdonald 1984). Individuals often follow bands of monkeys and pick up fruit dropped from trees (Smythe 1978). Dasyprocta punctata also sometimes browsed and ate crabs, vegetables and other succulent plants (Nowak 1999). Agoutis feed by sitting on their hind legs and holding their food in their forepaws. They then turn the fruit around several times while peeling it with their teeth. If there are any remaining parts of the fruit not eaten at the end of meal time, they are buried.

  • Animal Foods
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Agouti are preyed on by medium to large predators throughout their range, including humans. They avoid predation by being alert and agile in dense undergrowth.

Ecosystem Roles

Agouti are important prey animals for medium to large predators, such as eagles and jaguars. Agouti are also important in facilitating the regeneration of tropical fruit-bearing trees through their seed caching activities.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Agoutis are commonly hunted in their range by humans a a source of food. As mentioned before, D. punctata is thought to contribute largely to seed dispersal of many types of fruiting trees. Agoutis are also easily tamed and make very affectionate pets.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no negative impacts of agouti on humans.

Conservation Status

In some areas agouti populations have greatly declined because of both hunting and habitat destruction.

Other Comments

Peccaries and coatis are thought to be the agouti's primary competitors for food with squirrels, opossums, spiny rats, and tapirs also competing but to a lesser extent.

It is important to note that the animals with the common name "agouti" such as the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) are not the same as those with the scientific name Agouti (family, Agoutidae).

Contributors

Jeffrey Decker (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Grzimek, B. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals (Volume 3). New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

Macdonald, D. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World (Sixth Edition, Volume II). Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Smythe, N. 1978. The Natural History of the Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta Punctata). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institutional Press.