If you take a close look inside the Small Animal Building at the Zoo, you’ll definitely spot the agouti. Can you guess who the agouti’s relatives are? If you guessed “the hamster”, you’re right! The agouti resembles the long-legged hamster, and they are both members of the order of rodents. There are a number of agouti species. Our agouti is a relative of the golden agouti sub-species. The agouti, which has a body that is narrow in the front and wide and muscular in the back, is very well adapted to life in dense tropical forests.
Offspring are born when fruit is in abundance. They are born fully developed, with fur, ears, and open eyes, and they can start walking right after they are born. The agouti (especially young agouti) has many predators, so they live their lives while staying out of sight. The mother agouti digs burrows for her young to hide in, and she digs larger burrows for them as they develop into adolescence. With time, young agouti learn how to dig their own burrows. Agouti reach sexual maturity at the age of a year and a half. During that time, agouti parents begin pushing the young agouti out of the family unit, and they leave their home to look for a mate and live an independent life.
The agouti’s favorite food is fruit, and they spend a lot of time looking for it. They can use their sense of hearing to detect fruit because they can hear the fruit falling off trees at a great distance from them. Agoutis use their front paws to pry open the fruit and remove the peel, and then they gnaw at it. One fruit that agouti are particularly fond of is the Brazil nut, which has an especially tough shell. Still, they manage to crack the shell using their sharp teeth. They bury any nuts they aren’t able to crack open in the ground and later use their developed sense of direction to retrieve buried nuts. With a bit of luck, a forgotten nut that had been removed from its tough shell will grow into a huge tree (which can grow to be 60 meters tall!) and live about 500 years. Brazil nut trees have a wide range, though they can’t be cultivated or raised in farms. That’s why distribution via the agouti is so important. We can thank the agouti, that small, elusive rodent, for being one of the main reasons we can buy tasty Brazil nuts.