Agouti - Costa Rica's Tropical Rodents

Agouti

October 7th, 2013 by Anamaya Resort

Agouti at Anamaya Resort

Biology

The Agouti is a tropical rodent that to most visitors appears a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. It looks like a slightly larger version of the guinea pig. Agoutis are vital to the ecosystem in the sense that they are important seed predators who also act as dispersers. They feast on seeds from trees and will transport and bury seeds in caches, much like squirrels do in the temperate forests. They go back to dig up some of the seeds, but leave out the rest. The forgotten seeds become the next generation of vegetation in the rainforest.

Physically, the Red-rumped agoutis tend to be 16-25 inches long, which includes a one-inch tail, and weigh anywhere between two to nine pounds. They are in the rodent family and look a bit like huge tailless rats or squirrels. Their hair is appears rough and shiny, sporting a thick lock on the rump and is usually red or brown. They have tiny eyes, the tail is nothing more than a dark naked stub, and its whiskers are black. Most of the fur the Agoutis sport is grizzled black or brown.
The agoutis are referred to as “scatter hoarders.” This means that when food is available in abundance, the agoutis will bury excess nuts and fruits in various places throughout their home territory. Later, when food is scarce, the agouti will fastidiously return to their cache and dine on the foods that they have carefully stacked away for the rainy day.

Predictably, the agoutis will not always remember where they have stored all of their food. Thus, these forgotten fruits and nuts may germinate and ultimately grow into healthy adult trees located away from their primary tree. So, the scatter-hoarding agoutis play a crucial role in the forest by dispersing the seeds of many different floral species. Without their signature seed-dispersing activity, several forest trees would never have found a suitable place to thrive.

The agouti is diurnal unless it is too fiercely chased and hunted when it becomes more active especially at night. It is an important seed disperser for plants in its habitat: the agouti buries food in small batches that it will claim in the vent food becomes scarce. If it does not recover these seeds, they may grow into plants and replenish the sources from which the agouti feeds. An agouti can eat seeds with very hard seed coats, because while eating it may sit on its haunches to lookout for predators-this gives then the time to work on the seed. While sitting on its back legs, it utilizes its forepaws to hold the seed in place and gnaw on a specific spot.

The agouti inhabits areas that have a good undergrowth cover. Under fallen down trees, near rivers or swamps or sometimes even gardens or plantations are some places these tiny yet intelligent creatures like to hang out and if the soil is smooth enough, they may even take to digging burrows.

The agoutis are highly monogamous by nature. They will mate for life. The usual gestation duration for an agouti is about three to four months. They are known to mate throughout the year and typically their population thrives when fruits are available in abundance.

At a single time one or two baby agoutis are born in one of their mother’s many sleeping zones. Even at birth, they are well developed, and are very active immediately after birth. On their first day, the mother takes them to potential nest sites dug by other animals, often consisting of crevices or burrows. The babies select one site and prepare their own nest with leaves and twigs. Agoutis nest in homes too small for predators to enter-but this means the mother is also too large to enter the nest site. Instead, she feeds her young ones in the morning and evening.

These intelligent mammals communicate primarily through odor signals. For instance, they mark their territory and feeding and sleeping areas by dragging odor glands throughout the objects. Males will even mark potential mates by spraying urine on them as part of their courtship(now that’s some clever thinking). Adult males sternly defend their trails to ensure the paternity of their offspring. They possess a very perceptive sense of smell and hearing, which helps them detect the presence of predators and run at an impressive speed.

While agoutis are not necessarily antisocial, an individual agouti avoids any other agouti that walks straight towards it, because such an action is presumably confrontational. To fight, agoutis of the same sex may run towards each other, jump just before they come face to face, and kick each other with their sturdy hind legs, which can cause grave damage to both fighters. In the presence of predators, however, their predominant defense is to run, as they repeat high-pitched barks to caution their family within the territory. If they are directly confronted by a predator, they will raise hairs on the rump to appear much bigger in size than they actually are. If a predator tries to bite their large lock of hair, they will miss the skin of the agouti and it will have a greater chance of fleeing. When scared, the agouti will straighten his long hair on his rump, throb his hind feet on the ground, or run with exceedingly high-pitched barks.

Where To Spot Them

In Costa Rica, the agoutis are spotted mainly at the Santa Rosa National Park, La Selva, Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Children’s Eternal Rainforest. They may also be found in San Vito. In the forests of Nicaragua’s and Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, Agoutis are the most commonly found large rodents.

The agouti like several other native species can be spotted roaming throughout Anamaya Resort’s vicinity. All you need to do is keep your eyes open and you may just get lucky and see them all.