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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Costa Rica Wildlife: Meet the Agouti

It’s a big brown rodent but you’ll find it pleasant to look at.

The Central American Agouti is one of the approximately 50 members of the order rodentia (rodents) to call this small country its home. They’re in a suborder called Caviomorpha which, for me, contains all of the ‘cool kids’ from Costa Rica’s rodent family – the agouti, spotted paca, Mexican porcupine and two species of rats with secret spines hidden under their fur.

Their common name in Tico Spanish is guatusa (pronounced wa two sa). That is, unless you’re anywhere near the town of Guatuso, where confusingly enough I couldn’t find a single person who didn’t use its other common name, cherenga.

No matter what you call it, I find it nearly impossible to believe that you won’t think it’s adorable. They’re generally some shade of brown, with well-kept hair and guinea pig faces. Top that off with a little button tail and seemingly-too-long legs that give it a dainty tiny-antelope gate when it walks, and you’ve got yourself a delightful little creature.

My camera trap videos compound the cuteness by capturing their daily activities and communication. They’re diurnal, which means they’re walking around during the afternoon, posing in the bright light that makes a good wildlife video.

They are fruit and seed eaters, for the most part, so I frequently record videos of them carrying a comically large fruit around or propping themselves on their back legs nibbling on a seed held up in their front paws like an oversized chipmunk.

I often record them in male-female pairs or females with a juvenile. When a pair wander within range of the camera trap’s speaker, I get a small sample of their communication. And guess what? It’s also adorable. It sounds like minion-esque cooing, squeaking and whistling.

The one bone I have to pick with the agouti comes while I’m out checking cameras. I’ll be walking along in the forest, minding my own business, almost definitely daydreaming about camera traps, when a heart-stopping whistle-snort-grunt explodes out of the underbrush beside me.

Quickly followed by the twin thumping noises of the agouti bounding away through the understory and my heart thudding in my chest. When startled, they extend all of the hair on their rumps, making themselves appear larger to potential predators, then they try to scare you off with their alarm call. I don’t know how well it works on the other large mammals clambering around Costa Rica’s jungles, but it always scares me.

The less heart-stopping way to personally interact with an agouti is to not go looking for it, rather let it find you. I’ve slid into a hang out session or two with an agouti by simply finding a comfortable spot in the forest and sitting quietly.

If you’re lucky, one may come walking by. If you’re too impatient (or mosquito weary) to sit quietly in the forest, then just click on the following video and spend some time with one of Costa Rica’s most adorable rodents, the agouti

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: [email protected]

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