Dasyprocta mexicanaMexican agouti

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Geographic Range

Dasyprocta mexicana is found in tropical southern Mexico and Cuba. The native distribution of D. mexicana includes parts of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Campeche, and Chiapas, Mexico. Dasyprocta mexicana was introduced to Pinar del Rio, Sierra de los Organos, and Sierra Cristal, Holguin, Cuba sometime during the 1930s. While it has been established in western Cuba since 1967, as of 2009 no recent sightings exist from eastern Cuba. Localities with sightings between 1990 and 2008 include San Diego de los Banos, Guanahacabibes, and Soroa, Cuba. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Alvarez, 1963; Borroto-Paez, 2009; Global Biodiversity Information Facility, 2001; Reid, 2009; Saussure, 1860; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Habitat

Dasyprocta mexicana is terrestrial and occurs in subtropical to tropical moist lowland evergreen forest, secondary forest, and cultivated areas. Individuals den in hollowed trunks of fallen trees, under large roots of old trees, under rocks, or in other natural cavities. Dasyprocta mexicana is found at altitudes ranging from 50 to 600 meters above sea level. The latitudinal range is 17.04 to 18.9 degrees and the longitudinal range is -96.86 to -90.12 degrees. However, around 89 percent of the animal’s original habitat has been lost during the last 50 years. Much of the research on D. mexicana has been conducted at Los Tuxtlas biological station in southern Veracruz, Mexico. This station sits at 500 m above sea level and receives around 4900 mm of precipitation per year. Temperatures range from 22 to 27 degrees C with a mean of 25 degrees C. The dry season is from March to May and the rainy season is from mid-June to the end of February. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Global Biodiversity Information Facility, 2001; Reid, 2009; Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Gallardo, 1998; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

  • Range elevation
    50 to 600 m
    164.04 to 1968.50 ft

Physical Description

Mexican agoutis are rabbit-sized rodents with blackish-brown, slightly grizzled pelage. They have rounded backs and long, thin legs adapted for running. The rump is black, the breast is whitish-brown, and parts of the throat and stomach are white. The shoulders and thighs have denser speckling than the sides. The tail is short, black, and hidden under posterior hair. Their body length ranges from 446 to 557 mm, their tail is between 20 to 30 mm, and most adults weigh between 2 and 5 kg. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Arkive, 2011; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Hall, 1981; Reid, 2009; Saussure, 1860)

The head of Mexican agoutis is black on top and brown on its sides with some minor white speckling. Skin surrounding the eyes is pink and sparsely covered with downy gray or brown hair. The mustache is black and hair on the throat is completely white. Ears are pink at the base, naked and rounded at the tips with the posterior margins somewhat notched. Hairs on the body and neck are brownish-black with two white rings. The overlaying of these ringed hairs produces a mottled appearance. Long black hairs form a line from the middle of the head down along the back, which becomes wider towards its posterior end. Hair next to this line is also long and black but has one white ring. Chest hairs are light brown at the base and white at the tips. Abdominal hairs are brown with a white ring and hair posterior to the abdomen but anterior to the pubic region is either white with a gray base or completely white. The outer front legs are black with speckles and the insides are whitish with gray-based, white-tipped hairs. The fore-feet, which have four toes, are black and flecked with white. The hind feet, which have three toes, are also black with thinly scattered white hairs. At the end of each toe is a hoof-like claw. (Reid, 2009; Saussure, 1860)

Dasyprocta mexicana does not closely resemble any sympatric species. However, it could be confused with other species of agoutis. Dasyprocta mexicana is distinguished from other agoutis by differences in coloration. (Hall, 1981)

Little variation exists among individuals. Juveniles are precocial and look like small adults. One dark brown, grizzled specimen from Tabasco may be a hybrid with Dasyprocta punctata, the Central American agouti. There is no description in the literature of sexual dimorphism, seasonal variation in pelage, recognition of sub-species, or intraspecific polymorphisms. (Emmons and Feer, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    2 to 5 kg
    4.41 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    466 to 587 mm
    18.35 to 23.11 in

Reproduction

Little is known about the reproductive behavior of Mexican agoutis. Breeding pairs produce either one or two offspring each dry season. Young have been observed between the months of January and May. (Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Reid, 2009; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

Mexican agoutis are generally observed alone or in groups of two. A single breeding pair may claim a territory of 1 to 2 hectares and males do not tolerate rivals within their territory. Gestation lasts between 104 and 120 days. More detailed information exists on Central American agoutis, which becomes sexually mature between 6 and 20 months after leaving the nest. Young initially live in small burrows and leave the burrow to nurse. (Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986b; Emmons and Feer, 1997; Reid, 2009; Smythe, 1978; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

  • Breeding interval
    Mexican agoutis breed once each year
  • Breeding season
    Mexican agoutis breed during the dry season
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Range gestation period
    104 to 120 days

Limited information exists on parental care in Mexican agoutis. However, similar to other mammals, mothers nurse their young until weaning. Young develop quickly and follow their mother after they are born. (Reid, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little information available on longevity in Mexican agoutis. In captivity, one individual lived for 13.1 years. (AnAge, 2011)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13.1 (high) years

Behavior

Dasyprocta mexicana is predominantly diurnal, but is occasionally seen at night. Behavior varies greatly between habitats with and without humans nearby. In remote locations, Dasyprocta mexicana is almost entirely diurnal and returns to its burrow at dusk. However, in areas where humans persecute agoutis, it is mostly nocturnal. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977)

Dasyprocta mexicana is a skittish, solitary animal. It is agile, timid, alert, and ready to flee at any sign of danger. It is generally observed alone or in groups of two. The basic social unit is probably one adult male and one adult female. Pairs may claim a territory of 1 to 2 hectares, however, overall population density is somewhat lower than these numbers suggest. At Los Tuxtlas biological reserve the density was estimated at 0.27 individuals per hectare. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Saussure, 1860; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

Mexican agoutis utilize holes in the trunks of fallen trees, which often have two exits. They also live in dens under the large roots of old trees, under rocks, or in other natural cavities. Often, they line their dens with leaf litter and other vegetation. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977)

  • Range territory size
    0.01 to 0.02 km^2

Home Range

Little information is available on average home range size in Mexican agoutis, however, a single breeding pair may claim a territory of 1 to 2 hectares. (Vázquez, et al., 2010)

Communication and Perception

Mexican agoutis make alarm calls by stamping their feet and producing sharp nasal-sounding barks while running away. Many species of agouti (e.g., common agoutis, black agoutis, brown agoutis, and Mexican agoutis) make loud gnawing noises when eating. Currently, no further information exists concerning communication and perception in Mexican agoutis. (Emmons and Feer, 1997; Reid, 2009)

Food Habits

Dasyprocta mexicana is primarily a fruigivore, but also consumes fruits and leaves. It eats new growth plant matter, bark, soft seeds, and fruit from various trees. Dasyprocta mexicana eats the fruits of Spondias mombin (Anacardiaceae), Pseudolmedia oxyphyllaria (Moraceae), Bosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Ficus yoponensis (Moraceae), Astrocaryum mexicanum (Palmae), and Nectandra ambigens (Lauraceae). It also eats the seeds of Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), but not of Pouteria sapota (Sapotaceae). Captive Mexican agoutis eat a wide range of foods including rabbit pellets, peanuts, corn, fruits, and carrots. A study of tree visitation based on records of agouti tracks found a significant number of D. mexicana tracks surrounding Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), and Omphalea oleifera (Euphorbiaceae), suggesting that these tree species are also important food resources. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Burkey, 1994; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986b; Cucchi-Stefanoni, et al., 2008; Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Gallardo, 1998; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Mexican agoutis escape predation by relying on their speed, and their grizzled coloration helps camouflage them from potential predators. They often have escape holes along the length of fallen trees. These holes have two exits, which allows the agouti to escape through one exit while the predator waits at the other exit. If available, they also use tunnels between closely spaced rocks and other natural cavities. When startled they run away making strange grunts and fluffing their long rump hairs. Sometimes these alarm shrieks alert nearby agoutis who keep a guarded distance if the predator is a cat (Felidae) or a raptor (Falconiformes). However, if the predator is a snake (Serpentes), other agoutis may attack it, jumping and biting. Throughout their range, agoutis are an important food source for jaguars (Panthera onca). (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Rodriguez-Soto, et al., 2011)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Dasyprocta mexicana is an important seed disperser and seed predator and is among the most important seed predators at Los Tuxtlas biological reserve in Veracruz, Mexico. A study of tree visitation based on records of agouti tracks found a significant number of D. mexicana tracks surrounding Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae), Cymbopetalum baillonii (Annonaceae), and Omphalea oleifera (Euphorbiaceae), suggesting that these tree species are also important food resources. Dasyprocta mexicana also feeds on bark, and trees can die after agoutis strip a continuous ring of bark around from the base. By eating seedlings and dispersing seeds it can influence composition and spatial distribution of tree species throughout the forests in which they reside. Dasyprocta mexicana is an important food resource for jaguars (Panthera onca) in Mexico. In captivity, it has been parasitized by Echidnophaga fleas, which can cause death by anemia. Native fleas (Rhopalopsyllus australis australis) also feed on D. mexicana. In Cuba, where it is introduced, it poses a potential threat to native flora and fauna. It may compete with the hutia conga (Capromys pilorides) for food and shelter. (Borroto-Paez, 2009; Burkey, 1994; Cucchi-Stefanoni, et al., 2008; Rodriguez-Soto, et al., 2011; Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Gallardo, 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dasyprocta mexicana is hunted for meat throughout its range. If D. mexicana were common, it could be kept as a pet. One researcher described his specimen as being very clean and having a “very sweet character.” He found that young animals were easy to tame and they could be kept as pets and allowed to run around free in houses. The researcher kept one as a pet in Europe, but eventually gave it to a museum’s menagerie, where it died. He found that, when frightened by strangers, the specimen would make “enormous leaps” knocking over tables and other objects in his apartment. (Reid, 2009; Saussure, 1860)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Dasyprocta mexicana is an agricultural pest of corn. In Cuba, where it was introduced, it also poses a threat to native flora and fauna. It may compete with the hutia conga (Capromys pilorides) for food and shelter. There are no other known adverse affects of D. mexicana on humans. (Borroto-Paez, 2009; Coates-Estrada and Estrada, 1986a; Reid, 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Dasyprocta mexicana is currently listed as “Critically Endangered.” This is a rapid change from the 1996 listing of “Lower Risk/near threatened.” Rapid habitat loss is most likely the cause for this rodent’s decline. The population size has decreased by more than 80 percent during the past ten years as habitat has been converted for agricultural and urban use. Unfortunately, D. mexicana is purported to be quite tasty and a favorite among local hunters. Hunting seed predators or seed dispersers may indirectly lead to changes in forest composition and spatial distribution. Other threats to D. mexicana include aquaculture and timber crops, and in part of its native range, much of the land is being used for cattle ranching. A smaller amount has been converted to cultivate coffee, cacao, citrus, bananas, or allspice. Currently, there is no mention of specific actions aimed at the conservation and management of Dasyprocta mexicana. (Estrada, et al., 1993; Sanchez-Cordero and Martinez-Gallardo, 1998; Saussure, 1860; Vázquez, et al., 2010)

Other Comments

Common names include serete, zerete, cerreti, cuatuza, cuacechi, guaqueque negro, Mexican agouti, and Mexican black agouti. Remains from a cave in Oaxaca, Mexico suggest that D. mexicana and D. punctata may once have lived sympatrically. (Alvarez Del Toro, 1977; Alvarez, 1963; Emmons and Feer, 1997; Reid, 2009)

Contributors

Leslie McGinnis (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

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

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

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.

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.

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).

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.

nocturnal

active during the night

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

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.

scent marks

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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

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.

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.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Alvarez Del Toro, M. 1977. Los mamiferos de chiapas. Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico: Universidad Autonoma De Chiapas.

Alvarez, T. 1963. Restos de mamiferos encontrados en una cueva de Valle Nacional, Oaxaca, Mexico. Revista de Biologia Tropical, Vol. 11, Issue 1: 57-61.

AnAge, 2011. "AnAge entry for Dasyprocta mexicana" (On-line). Accessed April 07, 2011 at http://www.genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Dasyprocta_mexicana.

Arkive, 2011. "Mexican agouti (Dasyprocta mexicana)" (On-line). Arkive: Images of Life on Earth. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.arkive.org/mexican-agouti/dasyprocta-mexicana/image-G64190.html#text=Facts.

Baker, R., J. Greer. 1960. Notes on Oaxacan Mammals. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 41, No. 3: 413-415.

Borroto-Paez, R. 2009. Invasive mammals in Cuba: an overview. Biological Invasions, 11: 2279-2290.

Burkey, T. 1994. Tropical Tree Species Diversity: A Test of the Janzen-Connell Model. Oecologia, Vol. 97, No. 4: 533-540.

Coates-Estrada, R., A. Estrada. 1986. Manual de identificacion de campo de los mamiferos de la Estacion de Biologia Tropical Los Tuxtlas. Mexico, D.F.: Instituto de Biologia, UNAM.

Coates-Estrada, R., A. Estrada. 1986. Fruiting and Frugivores at a Strangler Fig in the Tropical Rain Forest of Los Tuxtlas, Mexico. Journal of Tropical Ecology, Vol. 2, No. 4: 349-357.

Cucchi-Stefanoni, K., C. Juan-Salles, A. Paras, M. Garner. 2008. Fatal anemia and dermatitis in captive agoutis (Dasyprocta mexicana) infested with Echidnophaga fleas. Veterinary Parasitology, 155, 3-4: 336-339. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6TD7-4SGD4X0-2&_user=10&_coverDate=08%2F17%2F2008&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=e97a25377662a13d11c00d6a3f5060c6&searchtype=a.

Eckerlin, R. 2005. Fleas (Siphonaptera) of the Yucatan Peninsula (Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan), Mexico. Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol. 41, No. 1: 152-157.

Emmons, L., F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Estrada, A., R. Coates-Estrada, D. Meritt, S. Montiel, D. Curiel. 1993. Patterns of frugivore species richness and abundance in forest islands and in agricultural habitats at Los Tuxtlas, Mexico. Vegetatio, 107/108: 245-257.

Global Biodiversity Information Facility, 2001. "Dasyprocta mexicana Saussure, 1860" (On-line). Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://data.gbif.org/species/13803496.

Hall, E. 1981. The Mammals of North America, Volume II. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Lopez Wilchis, R., J. Lopez Jardinez. 1998. Los mamiferos de Mexico depositados en colecciones de los estados unidos y canada, volumen 1. Mexico, D. F.: Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Unidad Iztapalapa.

Ramirez-Pulido, J., R. Lopez-Wilchis, C. Mudespacher Ziehl, I. Lira. 1983. Lista y bibliografia reciente de los mamiferos de Mexico. Mexico, D. F.: Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Unidad Iztapalapa.

Reid, F. 2009. A field guide to the mammals of Central America and southeast Mexico. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

Rodriguez-Soto, C., O. Monroy-Vilchis, L. Maiorano, L. Boitani, J. Faller, M. Briones, R. Nunez, O. Rosas-Rosas, G. Ceballos, A. Falcucci. 2011. Predicting potential distribution of the jaguar (Panthera onca) in Mexico: identification of priority areas for conservation. Diversity and Distributions, 17: 350-361.

Sanchez-Cordero, V., R. Martinez-Gallardo. 1998. Postdispersal Fruit and Seed Removal by Forest-Dwelling Rodents in a Lowland Rainforest in Mexico. Journal of Tropical Ecology, Vol. 14, No. 2: 139-151.

Saussure, M. 1860. Note sur quelques Mammiferes du Mexique. Revue et magasin de zoologie et appliquee, ser. 2, vol. 12: 53-56. Accessed March 15, 2011 at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/19433#page/57/mode/1up.

Smythe, N. 1978. The Natural History of the Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, No. 257: 1-52.

Vázquez, E., L. Emmons, F. Reid, A. Cuarón. 2010. "Dasyprocta mexicana" (On-line). IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/6285/0.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.