Pacaranas are nocturnally active. Captive pacaranas are un-agressive, peaceful creatures, but they are well adapted for defense and can be disconcertingly vicious. Adults are solitary or live in pairs or in family groups. Pacaranas communicate with a varied and complex array of sounds and postures.

Pacaranas have been but little studied in the wild, and much information about their behavior and biology has been learned from observing captive animals.

Captive pacaranas, most of the time, are unaggressive, peaceful creatures. Pacaranas are often the butt of jokes comparing their peaceful, pokey nature to their genus name, Dinomys, which adds up to an irony. Nevertheless, pacaranas are not only well-equipped for self-defense, but have a well-earned reputation for occasional but effective viciousness. In a Brazilian zoo, several pacaranas in an enclosure ganged up on and killed a paca introduced into the compound, the keepers probably assuming that the normally phlegmatic pacaranas would prove no threat to the new tenant. Domestic dogs living in areas inhabited by pacaranas have learned to fear and avoid them, because of the large rodents' spirited defense. This may partly explain their continued survival, despite their low numbers and density. The pacarana is a strong, fairly large animal with formidable claws and powerful limbs, and can apparently give a good account of itself in a tight spot. Nevertheless, pacaranas are vulnerable to humans, who can kill them from a distance.

In the wild, pacaranas live in cracks between rocks or in natural caves. Adults live alone, in pairs, or in family groups of a parent pair with one or more litters of their young.

Pacaranas communicate with a varied repertoire of sounds, stamping with their forepaws, tooth chattering, whining, melodious songs, and hissings. Researchers have found seven distinct pacarana vocalizations used in social situations.

Life spans of wild pacaranas are unknown, but a captive pacarana reached the impressive age, for a rodent, of nine years and five months.

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