Mar 07 2017
What rodent is as big as a groundhog, looks like a squirrel, and has long legs like a small dog?
The agouti (pronounced “a GOO tee”) lives in forests, nests in burrows, and eats fallen fruit and nuts. Eleven species in the genus Dasyprocta range from Mexico to South America and in the Caribbean. Four are endangered because of habitat loss and over hunting but the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), the species I saw in Costa Rica, seems to be doing fine.
Agoutis look like very large squirrels but their bony legs and extremely short hairless tails set them apart.
Like squirrels, they are diurnal but avoid humans because we hunt them. Where they feel safe, though, they’re almost tame. At Las Cruces Biological Station they’re protected so they stroll around the Wilson Botanical Garden and stop by the bird feeders every morning to glean the fruit knocked off the feeders.
This agouti was wary when I followed him at the garden to take his picture. I was amazed when he raised the greenish fur on his rump when I got too close. He lowered it when I stopped following him.
Despite their physical resemblance, agoutis aren’t even related to squirrels. Their nearest relatives are guinea pigs.
(top two photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals. Last photo by Kate St. John)