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So why is the wild colour of the Mongolian Gerbil, and many other animals, often described as Agouti?
The word "Agouti" is often used to describe a coat where the shaft of the hairs is one colour, usually yellow or red, and the tips of the hairs are black. This gives the animal a brownish gold colour that is an effective camouflage when hiding in vegetation or on a range of soils. In some animals like the Chinchilla and the Grey Agouti Gerbil the yellow band is replaced by a white one giving a grey colour that is an effective camouflage when hiding amongst rocks.
Sometimes people think that the word "Agouti" implies that the animal has a white belly. This is not the case. Agouti only applies to the banding on the coat. Agouti animals can have grey bellies, white bellies or even agouti bellies. For example, see the photo of the Agouti bellow, it has a light agouti belly.
Agoutis are a group of South American rodents that live in forests eating the fruit, nuts and other vegetation that lies on, or falls to, the forest floor. One of the reason's that brazil nuts are so difficult to get into is because they have evolved to keep these creatures out! Actually they don't succeed. Because of their teeth, Agoutis probably have an easier time at Christmas than we do!
Agoutis are hunted for food by the natives of South America and Agoutis have been introduced to many Caribbean islands due to their food value.
The typical Agouti is The Golden Agouti (Dasyprocta leporina also sometimes called D. aguti) from the forests of Brazil. In size they are about the size of a Jack Russel Terrier. From my observations in zoos they seem to prefer light undergrowth and are quite timid in the open. When threatened they stand perfectly still underneath bushes etc.
Here is a picture of D. leporina I recently took (click on it for a larger image). You can see why the name Golden Agouti is so appropriate for the wild colouring of the Mongolian Gerbil. This animal was photographed in the shade so appears darker than it actually is. The second close-up photos shows more accurately the colour of this animal.
In the picture below, if you look carefully, you will see that the hairs standing up have the yellow and black bands that is so typical of the and animal described as "Agouti".
One last question? Why and when did someone first use the word Agouti to describe the wild colouring of most rodents? If you know, please share the information with me!
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Last updated 23 August 2003