The Central American agouti is a large South American rodent. It is typically reddish, orange, or yellowish grizzled with black. Populations that live in northern Colombia, western Venezuela, and on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica and Panama have brownish or blackish grizzled with tawny or olivaceous foreparts; their mid-body is orange, and the rump is black or cream. In western Colombia and Ecuador, some have tawny foreparts and yellowish to the rump. Agoutis from the disjunct southern population (Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina) are grizzled brown, yellowish, and black, or grizzled black and orange.
Central American agoutis occur from Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula (southern Mexico), through Central America, to northwestern Ecuador, Colombia, and far western Venezuela. A highly disjunct population is found in southeastern Peru, far southwestern Brazil, Bolivia, western Paraguay, and far northwestern Argentina. Central American agoutis live in tropical moist forests and cultivated areas such as plantations and rural gardens.
In the wild, Central American agoutis are shy animals. They live in pairs and are active during the day. Each pair occupies territory with fruiting trees usually near water. Males defend their territory and drive off intruders through fighting, aggressive displays, or vocally emitting dog-like barks. Agoutis conceal themselves at night in hollow tree trunks or in burrows among roots. Active and graceful in their movements, their pace is either a kind of trot or a series of springs following one another so rapidly as to look like a gallop. They also take readily to water, in which they swim well. When feeding, agoutis sit on their hind legs and hold food between their fore paws. They frequently hoard fruits and seeds in small, buried stores for later consumption or when food is scarce. If threatened, they typically stay motionless although they are very fast animals and can move with remarkable speed and agility.
Central American agoutis are monogamous and form pairs for life. They may breed throughout the year, but the peak of birth typically occurs between March and July, when the fruit is most plentiful. After the gestation period of 104-120 days, females usually give birth to 2 pups. The young are born in burrows lined with leaves, roots, and hair. They are well developed at birth and may be up and eating within an hour. Although agoutis live in pairs, fathers are barred from the nest while the young are very small. The nursing period usually takes 4-5 months at which point the pups become independent.
The main threats to Central American agoutis include habitat loss due to deforestation and hunting. These animals are heavily hunted for meat and are also a preferred game species.
According to IUCN, the Central American agouti is widespread and common throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Central American agoutis are important for the dispersal of seeds, as they regularly bury seeds and fruits in a cache at times when food is plentiful. They are also an important connection in food webs. As a prey species, numbers of agoutis may affect populations of local predators such as eagles and jaguars.