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Agouti are rodents resembling large, long legged guinea pigs. They are abundant in forest and wooded areas throughout Central and South America from Mexico southward to Brazil and Peru. The numerous species vary in color from tawny to blackish brown with lighter underparts. Their coarse hair is longer on the hindquarters where it is usually bright orange or gold. When the animal is alarmed or aggressive, these hairs raise. The head of the agouti is rat like with relatively large, pinkish ears. The animal is about 20 inches long with a short, hairless tail and long legs that bear five toes on the fore feet and three on the hind feet. When undisturbed the agouti is said to be diurnal, but in most cases they are considered nocturnal animals. They spend their days inside holes in trees or burrows that are scraped in the ground in soft limestone boulders or under the roots of trees. Burrows of this animal are 2 to 3 feet deep and covered over by twigs or leaves. One animal or a small group consisting of a family occupies each burrow.
Like all rodents, the agouti is mainly a vegetarian. It can be seen browsing on leaves, roots and fallen fruits. When these delicate eaters are seen eating, they will be sitting back on their hunches, holding their food with their fore feet and peeling their food carefully with their teeth before eating it. Agouti hoard their food in small stores, which are buried near their landmarks. They have been known to occasionally eat the eggs of ground nesting birds and have even been seen at the seashore searching for shellfish. When the agouti is disturbed it will first freeze in an attempt to avoid being detected. It will sit with its body upright and ankles flat on the ground ready to leap off at full speed. When the agouti leaps away from a predator, it will scream shrilly and has the ability to dodge obstacles with an amazing agility. Its main predators include the ocelot, jaguar and man. The agouti is a fast runner, known to escape predators more by speed than hiding. These very agile animals bound through the under growth, undaunted by precipices on which they display the agility of goats. Some have been recorded leaping 20 feet from a standing start.
After breeding, the female agouti will have a litter that numbers from two to six. Many of the species have two litters each year in May and October. Some of the species appear to breed all year round. The young are born in a burrow that is lined with leaves, roots and hair. The mother gives birth to the young in a squatting position and they are quite well developed at birth. Baby agouti are covered with hair, their eyes are open and within an hour they are eating vegetation. The gestation period for the young is three months. This is believed to be the reason the young are so well developed at birth. During the time that the young agouti are very small, the father is barred from the nest. The young remain with the parents for weeks before going out on their own.
There has been some speculation as to whether the agouti is social or solitary. Even though they occasionally burrow in small groups or alone, they will feed in groups of 100 or more. Despite their conflicting characteristics of fighting and fleeing, the agouti is easily tamed and make affectionate pets. These animals can live up to 20 years, but the average life span is approximately six years.