Dasyprocta leporinaBrazilian agouti

Geographic Range

Brazilian agoutis, also called red-rumped, orange-rumped, or golden-rumped agoutis, are native to South America. The species ranges from the northern tip of the continent to the Brazilian Amazon and from the western borders of Venezuela and Brazil to the eastern coast. This neotropical rodent is common throughout its range, and researchers have studied agoutis at sites in Venezuela, French Guiana, and the Brazilian Amazon. (Asquith, et al., 1999; Dubost, 1988; Emmons, 1997; Guimaraes Jr., et al., 2003; Henry, 1999; Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003)

Habitat

Agoutis occupy a wide variety of habitats as long as good cover exists, particularly near old logs, bodies of water, and swamps, and sometimes even live near people in gardens and on farms. However, Dasyprocta leporina appears to prefer forests of all types to human-inhabited areas when available, and their home ranges always contain at least some sheltered area. (Dubost, 1988; Henry, 1999)

Physical Description

Brazilian agouti females are larger than males, otherwise both sexes have a similar appearance. Weights range between 3 and 5.9 kg, and total length ranges betweem 49 and 64 cm. The fur is a speckled olive brown, sometimes with darker patches on the upper torso (often varying by region), and there is a patch of long orange or red hairs on the rump. Agouti undersides are orange-brown, and have a white stripe going down the middle. Small, round ears and a short peg-like tail are bare. Forefeet have four toes whereas hind feet only have three. Forelegs are shorter than hind legs. Dasyprocta leporina body size and overall shape is similar to black agoutis (Dasyprocta fuliginosa), but Brazilian agoutis are distinguishable by their distinct color pattern. (Emmons, 1997; Grzimek, 1990; Henry, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    3.000 to 5.900 kg
    6.61 to 13.00 lb
  • Range length
    49 to 64 cm
    19.29 to 25.20 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    8.694 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Brazilian agoutis are monogamous, and often live in pairs or small family groups consisting of parents and their offspring. Agoutis need a large area to court and breed, so they do not reproduce well in captivity. They are fairly social animals, and perhaps stick together for mating and safety purposes. Although data on D. leporina are not available, other species in the family Dasyproctidae mate for life and breed twice annually if enough food is available. It is reasonable to assume that Brazilian agoutis are similar to other Dasyproctids. (Emmons, 1997; Grzimek, 2003)

Brazilian agoutis tend to have 1 to 3 offspring at a time after a gestation period of 104 to 120 days. Though data on D. leporina are unavailable, other members of Dasyproctidae have estrus cycles lasting approximately 34 days and wean their offspring around 20 weeks of age. (Dubost, 1988; Grzimek, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    The breeding interval for these animals is not known.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season for D. leporina has not been reported.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    1.400
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    104 to 120 days
  • Average gestation period
    104 days
  • Average weaning age
    140 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    193 days
    AnAge

Agoutis often live in small groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring, though young are precocial and can forage soon after birth. Juvenile agoutis are born into a world rich with predators, and the ability to run within an hour of birth greatly increases their chance of survival. Members of the family Dayproctidae generally give birth to fewer, larger offspring than do other rodents, and spend a good amount of time and energy raising their young. Juveniles of both sexes might remain with their parents after 20 weeks of age, though males are more likely to disperse than females. The roles of mothers and fathers in parental care have not been documented for these animals. (Dubost, 1988; Grzimek, 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

Though specific data on D. leporina longevity are unavailable, other members of the genus have lived 15 to 20 years in captivity. Male life expectancy is lower than female life expectancy in the wild, but little is known about the average life expectancy in the wild of either sex. This is due to the difficulty in catching and marking individuals in the field. (Dubost, 1988; Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003; Walker, 1975)

Behavior

Brazilian agoutis are very nervous and wary, and are always on the lookout for danger. Males tend to inhabit open areas more often than females, who prefer areas with greater cover (and thus male mortality rates are often greater than female mortality rates). In addition, many male juveniles are forced to disperse and find territories of their own in perhaps sparse areas, leading to additional male mortality. Agoutis are always aware of their surroundings so that they might flee as quickly as possible upon sighting a predator. Dasyprocta leporina has powerful hind legs and a streamlined body, making it an excellent runner. Agoutis forage and travel most immediately after dawn and just before dusk, and sometimes even at night if the moon is bright enough. However, these animals are mainly diurnal and appear to have poor night vision. Agoutis have high energetic requirements, and show a bout of foraging activity just before dark . This allows the animals to can secure enough food to last them through the night. (Dubost, 1988; Emmons, 1997)

  • Range territory size
    30000 to 85000 m^2

Home Range

Brazilian agoutis have a home range of 3 to 8.5 ha, and shift their ranges seasonally based upon food availability. (Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003)

Communication and Perception

Dasyprocta leporina uses grunts, squeals, or hind foot stamping indicate distress or alarm. Since the animals live in small groups to enable them to better spot and respond to predators, any sort of indication of alarm benefits the entire group. Like many prey animals, their eyes are oriented at an angle best able to detect potential predators while they forage. Agoutis have distinct territories, and might use urine or other chemical signals to mark their home range. As in other mammals, it is likely that tactile communication is important between family members, and that some visual communication, such as body postures, is used. (Dubost, 1988; Emmons, 1997)

Food Habits

The main foods in a Brazilian agouti’s diet are seeds and fruit, but agoutis do consume leaf, animal, and plant parts as well when seeds and fruit are hard to come by. Agoutis bury their food in caches to eat in the event of a food shortage, and play a large role in seed dispersal. When agoutis eat, they rest on their large hind feet and hold food in their forepaws. (Emmons, 1997; Henry, 1999; Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers

Predation

Brazilian agoutis are always on the lookout for danger, and often scavenge and travel in pairs. Such behavior might increase their ability to detect predators. Animals that prey on agoutis include large mammals such as ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and humans (Homo sapiens). Ocelots tend to hunt animals on the ground, so terrestrial agoutis are great prey animals for these cats. Even newborn agoutis are equipped with the cordination and strong legs necessary to escape from ocelots. Humans often catch agoutis for meat or pets, but aren't always successful, since agoutis are so fast and wary. Though predation risk is high, agouti populations appear to currently be stable and not overly affected by feline or human predation. (Dubost, 1988; Langenburg and Mulheisen, 2003)

Ecosystem Roles

Brazilian agoutis play a critical role in dispersing tree and plant seeds due to their caching behavior. Patchy distributions of certain trees are often the result of agoutis spending extended time in certain parts of their home range. Certain neotropical canopy trees, such as Hymenaea courbaril, depend upon agoutis for seed dispersal and suffer in their absence. Brazilian agoutis help disperse inedible seeds containing quinolizidine alkaloids as well, since they have such a strong drive to collect and cache seeds that they will do so even if they can not consume the seeds themselves. (Asquith, et al., 1999; Dubost, 1988; Guimaraes Jr., et al., 2003; Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003)

Brazilian agoutis are also an important link in food webs. As a prey species, availability of agoutis may affect predator populations.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Brazilian agoutis are fairly common and are often hunted and eaten. Along with black agoutis (Dasyprocta fuliginosa), Brazilian agoutis are often kept in captivity. However, breeding Brazilian agoutis in human-imposed enclosures is difficult since the animals need a relatively large space to court and breed, and they are very nervous around people. (Emmons, 1997; Grzimek, 1990)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Brazilian agoutis are extremely wary of people and can be difficult to catch for food or to study, but don’t seem to have any negative economic impact on humans. However, agoutis might become a problem if their forest habitats continue to be destroyed and they are forced to feed in human farms and gardens. (Emmons, 1997; Silvius and V. Fragoso, 2003)

Conservation Status

Dasyprocta leporina is not listed on the IUCN list of threatened species. Though many of the habitats in which this species lives are slowly being destroyed, they appear to thrive in some human habitats. As long as they have sufficient cover, these animals do well even in disturbed habitats. Brazilian agouti populations currently appear to be stable. (Grzimek, 2003; Emmons, 1997; Grzimek, 2003)

Other Comments

Dasyprocta leporina was formerly known as D. agouti according to some sources. In addition to this species’ numerous English common names, D. leporina is known as a cutia in Brazil, a goudhaas or konkoni in Surinam, and a picure or acure in Venezuela. Since the natural histories of many agouti species are similar, D. leporina is probably most distinguishable from other species by its size, coat pattern, and geographic range. (Emmons, 1997)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Rachel Bricklin (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), 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

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

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.

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.

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).

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

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"

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

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.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Asquith, N., J. Terborgh, A. Arnold, C. Riveros. 1999. The fruits the agouti ate: Hymenaea courbaril seed fate when its disperser is absent. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 15: 229-235.

Dubost, G. 1988. Ecology and social life of the red acouchy, Myoprocta acouchy; comparison with the orange-rumped agouti, Dasyprocta leprina . London Journal of Zoology, 214: 107-123.

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

Grzimek, B. 2003. Agoutis (Dasyproctidae). Pp. 407-409 in D Kleimam, V Geist, M McDade, M Hutchins, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. Volume 16, Mammals V, Second Edition Edition. Detroit: Gale.

Grzimek, B. 1990. Agoutis. Pp. 341-342 in S Parker, W Keienburg, D Heinemann, S Schmitz, eds. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. Volume 3, English Language Edition Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Guimaraes Jr., P., J. Jose, M. Galetti, J. Roberto Trigo. 2003. Quinolizidine alkaloids in Ormosia arborea seeds inhibit predation but not hoarding by agoutis (Dasyprocta leporina). Journal of Chemical Ecology, Volume 29: 1065-1072.

Henry, O. 1999. Frugivory and the importance of seeds in the diet of the orange-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina). Journal of Tropical Ecology, 15: 291-300.

Langenburg, L., M. Mulheisen. 2003. ""Leopardus pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web." (On-line). Accessed March 11, 2004 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Leopardus_pardalis.html..

Silvius, K., J. V. Fragoso. 2003. Red-rumped Agouti (Dasyprocta leporina) Home Range Use in an Amazonian Forest: Implications for the Aggregated Distribution of Forest Trees. Biotropica, 35: 74-83.

Walker, E. 1975. Pacas and Agoutis. Pp. 1025-1028 in F Warnick, S Hamlet, K Lange, M Davis, H Uible, P Wright, J Paradiso, eds. Mammals of the World, Vol. II, Third Edition Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.