Yellow-Rumped Agouti

The agouti, a forest-dwelling rodent, is a very important member of the rainforest community. These animals are active throughout the day and can often be seen running about on the forest floor, foraging for fruits and nuts. In fact, it is said that the agouti is able to hear the sound of ripe fruit falling from distant trees and that this sound will attract the agouti -- no doubt the agouti come running in the hopes of feasting on the newly-fallen banquet. Agoutis have also been known to follow bands of monkeys throughout the forest, snatching up and feeding on the fruits that the monkeys drop from the trees.

The agoutis are known as "scatter hoarders." This means that when food is plentiful, agouti will bury excess nuts and fruits in various places throughout their home range. Later, when food is scarce, the agouti return to their cache and dine on the foods that they stored away. Of course, agoutis do not always remember where they have stored all of their food. Thus, these forgotten fruits and nuts may germinate and eventually grow into healthy adult trees located far away from their parent tree. So, the scatter-hoarding agoutis play a vital role in the forest by dispersing the seeds of many different plant species. Without the seed-dispersing activity of the agouti, many forest trees would never find a suitable place to take root and flourish.

When they are not foraging, feeding, or storing food, you may find the agouti defending their territory or ushering in the next agouti generation. Usually, one male and one female agouti form a pair bond that lasts for life. This pair will then defend a territory of 1-2 hectares. Using their anal scent glands, the pair will mark the boundaries of their home range. Should an intruder invade their territory, the agoutis will give warning calls that sound like a dog barking. If this doesn't work, then they may attack the intruder.

photos M. Noonan

The agouti pair will breed throughout the year, but tend to breed most when fruit is plentiful. When courting, the male agouti will shower his mate with urine, causing her to go into a "frenzy dance", after which she allows him to approach her. Around 120 days later, the female agouti will give birth to a single offspring that she transfers to a small burrow with an entrance that even she cannot fit through. This ensures that the tiny baby agouti is safe from predators. Each morning and evening, the mother agouti will then call the baby out of its protective burrow to nurse. In time, the young agouti will grow. Like its parents before it, the agouti will scatter fruits and nuts throughout the forest floor, thereby planting the next generation of rainforest trees.

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.