Central American agouti

Dasyprocta punctata

TAXONOMY

Dasyprocta punctata Gray, 1842, Realajo, Nicaragua. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Indian rabbit; Spanish: Guatusa, guaqueque alazan, neque.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length, 12.6-25.2 in (32-64 cm); tail, 0.4-2.75 in (1-7 cm); weight, 1.3-8.8 lb (0.6-4 kg). Body color variable, leading to a plethora of subspecific names (11 in Central America alone). Body color varies from yellowish or orange, finely grizzled with black, to that of populations on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica and Panama that have dark brown foreparts, orange mid-back, and a cream rump.

DISTRIBUTION

From Chiapas and Tabasco States, Mexico, south through Central America to southern Bolivia and northern Argentina.

HABITAT

Primary and secondary rainforest, at densities varying from one per 2.5 acres (1 ha) to one every 25 acres (10 ha). Also occurs in parks and gardens wherever there is sufficient food and cover.

BEHAVIOR

Each mated pair holds a territory of 2.5-5 acres (1-2 ha). They stay together for life, but rarely forage together. Tolerant of other pairs if there is abundant food, the male will (in the dry season) aggressively defend the area against incursion, especially by other agoutis. During aggressive interactions, rival males may erect the long hairs covering the rump to form a fan-shaped crest, and thump the ground with their hind feet. There are a number of vocalizations, including a doglike bark, made when fleeing from danger. They make burrows in river-banks and link them, along with temporary sleeping spots in hollow logs, with a series of paths.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Fruits are the main dietary staple, but they also eat freshwater crabs, fungi, and insects. They have been shown to be important dispersers for Virola nobilis (Myrisicaceae), a rainforest-canopy giant that is primarily dispersed by birds and monkeys. The agoutis act as secondary dispersers, foraging seeds from dung piles of the primary dispersers and dispersing them a second time when they deposit them in their food stashes.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The social unit consists of a life-mated pair. Reproduction may occur once or twice a year. Courtship is initiated when the male sprays the female with urine, causing her to go into a "frenzy dance." After several interactions of spraying and dancing, the female permits the male to advance and mate. The young are raised in small nest holes, the entrance to which is too small to permit the ingress of most predators. The mother calls the young out twice a day to suckle. Young grow quickly and move through a succession of larger resting chambers. Weaning occurs at around five months. Soon afterwards, the newly aggressive parents drive off the current offspring. This may either announce the impending arrival of a new litter or of unfavorable conditions. Post-weaning mortality can reach 70%, with deaths being mainly due to starvation and predation by male coatis (Nasua).

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Heavily hunted. Important source of meat in rural areas. ♦

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