Range:

Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America

Habitat:

Rain forests, mostly in areas with lots of undergrowth, often near water

Really cute rodent

The agouti (ah GOO tee) is a rodent from Central and South America rain forests that looks a bit like a really large guinea pig. Its coarse hair is covered with an oily substance that acts like a raincoat. The hair is longest on its rump. The agouti has five toes on its front feet and three on the hind feet. It walks on its toes, not flat-footed like many rodents, giving the agouti a dainty look.

Although it is hard to see it, the agouti does have a tail: it is very small, looking like a dark jelly bean stuck on the animal's rump!

Tough teeth

Just like other rodents, agoutis have teeth designed to gnaw on very hard items, with one pair of sharp incisors in the front of the mouth. These are the teeth they use to chew through tough items like nutshells. The layers of enamel on their teeth are twisted in a way that makes them much stronger. Brazil nuts may be hard for us to crack, but they pose no problem for agoutis!

The sharp incisors keep growing throughout their lifetime, ensuring that they always have nut-cracking tools at the ready! Agoutis use their molars to grind food items.

Take a bite out of this: the agouti is the only animal that can crack open the hard outer shell of a Brazil nut.
Ew! What's that smell? The coarse hair on an agouti contains very stinky oil.
The word "agouti" is also used to describe hair on a rodent or other animal that has alternating bands of dark and light colors.
Agoutis are good swimmers but cannot dive.

The San Diego Zoo does not have agoutis in our collection at present.

Agoutis may play a vital role in the survival of Brazil nut trees and the people who depend on the trees in remote areas of South America. Brazil nuts bring in millions of dollars each year. Remember, agoutis are the only animals that can open the thick husk to allow the seeds to sprout. If the agouti population declines, it could have an effect on a rain forest's health.

Currently, the Coiban agouti Dasyprocta coibae and Ruatan Island agouti Dasyprocta ruatanica are endangered, because they are being hunted for food and are losing their habitat.