Feeding ecology and diet

Agoutis eat primarily fallen fruit, but their diet also includes insects and shoots. They collect and store seeds and fruit, rarely eating those that have freshly fallen, preferring those in their various scattered and perpetually replenished larders. Some of their stores are forgotten, so agoutis and

A central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) near its burrow in Costa Rica. (Photo by Animals Animals ©J. & C. Sohns. Reproduced by permission.)
A female red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina) with her young. (Photo by Rod Williams/WILLO. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

achouchis are important dispersers of rainforest seeds. Burying the seeds not only reduces insect predation, but also provides the seeds with a better chance of establishing a good root system while germinating, thus reducing vulnerability to the stress of drought. Species such as Hymenaea courbaril originally evolved to be dispersed by large mammals (such as gom-potheres) that went extinct in the Pleistocene. Agoutis are now the major disperser and Hymenaea germination rates are very low in areas in which agoutis have been hunted out. Some agouti seed larders are raided by other animals, including peccaries, coatis, and spiny rats. Food is generally eaten while the animal sits on its haunches and holds the food in its hands. This dexterity allows the rodent to manipulate the seed or fruit until the weakest spot is discovered; manipulation then ensures that this area remains under dental attack until the defensive walls are breached. In this way the agouti (and acouchi to a lesser extent) can break open and eat the contents of such hard fruits as the Brazil nut (Bertholecia excelsa).

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