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Dasyprocta azarae - Azara's Agouti

Physical Description:

Dasyprocta azarae is a member of the rodent family.  When they are full grown, they are 40.6 to 64 centimeters (16-25 inches) long including a one inch tail (Johnson et al. 1999). The average weight can vary from just under a kilogram to 4 kg. These rabbit size rodents look like large rats that do not have long tails. The coat contains glossy and coarse hair that is the longest towards the rear of the body. They have skinny limbs with 3 hind and 5 front digits or toes. The molar teeth have cylindrical crowns, with several islands and a single lateral fold of enamel. Most have a brown back and a whitish or buffy belly; the fur may have a glossy appearance and then glimmers an orange color. Animals are diurnal and periods or high activity occur after sunrise and before sunset (Johnson et al. 1999).

Distribution:

D. azarae lives in areas of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. These animals are limited to large old-growth forests that can provide numerous different fruits that fall on to the ground (Chapman and Chapman 1995). Hunting has occurred over millions of years and only limits the population near large human activity centers. As larger forests are cut down to increase grazing land, the range that D. azarae can be found decreases. Deforestation is one of the major threats to this species continued existence (Fleming 1992).

Reproduction:

D. azarae, though mostly solitary throughout the year, will mate and produce 2 to 4 young.

Ecology and Behavior:

D. azarae dig burrows under rocks and around tree roots. These “dens” act as a protection from the environment and cover from predation. Like many rodents, D. azarae will freeze and remain motionless when threatened. If the animal feels that the danger is too close, it will run in a zigzag fashion into cover (Brazilian Fauna.com). This sudden burst of speed usually catches the predator off guard and gives D. azarae just enough time to escape. As part of a defense, the hearing power of D. azarae is incredible. Hearing a predator moving through the forest is the number one defense against animals and humans that are looking for a meal. Their hearing is so good that D. azarae uses it to locate food that has recently fallen from the trees (Fleming 1992). In locating food, these animals usually will follow troops of monkeys that drop fruit from the trees.

When feeding, D. azarae sits on their hind legs and holds food between their front paws. Sometimes D. azarae can cause damage to sugarcane and banana plantations by feeding on the fleshy parts of both plants (Chapman & Chapman 1995). As more and more forests are being converted to fields, D. azarae is also shifting its diet to the available food source that is planted in the field. As a mean of storage, D. azarae bury fruits and nuts for the months that fruit production is scarce. By doing this, D. azarae transplants hundreds of seeds and is a significant disperser of fruit-bearing trees.

Animals that prey upon D. azarae include Jaguars, Boa’s, and ocelots. Hunting for food is also a major source of mortality in areas where there is a high human population (Biota Neotropical).

Movement is that of a trot or a series of small, fast jumps. These animals also have the ability to swim and are often found near water. Being a rodent, one would expect a rather short life span, but individuals have lived nearly 20 years.

Remarks:

The name Dasyprocta azarae comes from Felix Manuel de Azara who was a Spanish officer in command of the discovering of the Paraguay frontier around 1781.  D. azarae is an important species in the distribution and fertilization of larger seeded plans in core home range area (Galetti et al. 1997).

Literature Cited:

Biota Neotropical. Vol 4, Num 2 (online publication). Accessed on 3-11-2004.

Brazilian Fauna.com. Search string Azara’s Agouti.

Chapman, C. A. and L. J. Chapman. 1995. Survival without dispersers: seedling recruitment under parents. Conservation Biology  9: 675-678.

Fleming, T. H. 1992. How do fruit and nectar-feeding birds and mammals track their food resources? In: Effects of resource distribution on animal-plant interactions. Academic Press, New York, pp. 355-391.

Johnson, M. A. Saraiva, P.M. and Coelho, D. The role of gallery forests in the distribution of Cerrado mammals. Journal of Mammalogy  64(3): 531-523.

Reference written by Craig Rekoske, Biol 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point:  Edited by Kim Moore. Page last updated December 19, 2004.

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