Saturday, March 13, 2010
This Costa Rican Rodent is no Rat!
A popular Costa Rican jungle inhabitant commonly found around Manuel Antonio, as well as within the grounds of Hotel Makanda by the Sea, is the Agouti. A member of the rodent species, they are similar to a large guinea pig with longer legs, and happily a distinctive short hairless tail, as opposed to the rat tail found in many rodent species. The Agouti varies in color from a grey tinged dark beige, to a rich dark brown, with the undersides being lighter colored or almost grey. Their body consists of coarse hair, which raises when the animals are alarmed, making this rodent look larger in size. The average length is around 20 inches, with a top weight of 18 pounds.
Agoutis are cute little mammals with a bunny-like twitching nose, five front and three hind toes; and a lead toe being very small. The hairless tail is very short or non-existent. The molar teeth consist of cylindrical crowns, effective for foraging on fruits and nuts. They are rumored to be the only species that can open Brazil nuts without tools, courtesy of their strong jaw and exceptionally sharp teeth.
Forgetful little fellows, the Agoutis are known as "scatter hoarders", burying the seeds they hoard throughout the forest, but often times forgetting where they have stored all of their food. These often times forgotten fruits and nuts then germinate, growing into healthy adult plants and trees dispersing new plant species throughout the rainforest.
Loving little rodents, Agoutis usually form a strong pair bond of one male and one female, with the bond lasting their lifetime. Together they will defend a territory of up to 2 hectares. Communicating extensively through odor signals, they mark their trails, feeding and sleeping areas by dragging their anal scent glands across the marking areas or across objects. Should an intruder invade this territory, Agoutis will make a warning call similar to that of a barking dog, or when pushed, they may actually attack the intruder.
Agoutis breed throughout the year. When courting, the male Agouti showers his mate with urine, exciting her into a "courtship dance", after which she allows the male to approach. Approximately 3 months later, the female Agouti will give birth to a litter of 1-3 offspring in a soft bed of twigs, fur and leaves. The baby, which is born incredibly developed, is then raised alone in a small burrow, the opening being smaller than the mother, which protects the tiny animal from predators. At least twice a day, the mother will call the baby out of its protective burrow using a low growling dog-like bark in order to nurse her young.
Agoutis are generally found in forest and wooded areas throughout Central and South America, and can commonly be spotted while visiting local Costa Rica hotels. They conceal themselves at night in hollow tree-trunks or burrows among roots to hide and protect themselves. Active animals, they are suprisingly graceful in movement, and general move in a gentle trot, turning in to a series of deer-like springing jumps when startled. Agoutis take readily to water, swimming quite well, and when feeding, they prop up, sitting on their hind legs and holding the food between their small forepaws.
These likeable little creatures are said to live as long as 20 years, an incredibly long time for a member of the rodent species. Although well camoflauged, they will often times stop to allow visitors the perfect photo opportunity. So on your next visit to Costa Rica, keep an eye peeled and your camera ready, as you could happen upon a wonderful little rodent, one that I am happy to say is not a RAT!
Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.