The twelve species of agoutis are the best-known members of the family Dasyproctidae (genus Dasyprocta) of the order Rodentia. Agoutis are found from southern Mexico through Central America to southern Brazil, including the Lesser Antilles. They are long-legged, slender-bodied, rabbit-like mammals with short ears and a short tail. The body length of agoutis measures 16-24 in (41.5-62 cm), and adults weigh 3-9 lb (1.3-4 kg). The fur is quite coarse and glossy, and is longest and thickest on the back. The fur ranges from pale orange through shades of brown to black on the backside, with a whitish, yellowish, or buff-colored underside. The back may be striped.
The forelimbs each have four digits, while the hind limbs have three hoof-like claws. The cheek teeth have high crowns and short roots, a condition known as hypsodont.
Agoutis live in cool, damp lowland forests, grassy stream banks, thick bush, high dry hillsides, savannas, and in cultivated areas. These animals are active during the day, feeding on fruit, vegetables, and various succulent plants, as well as corn, plantain, and cassava root. Agoutis eat sitting erect, holding the food with their forelimbs.
Female agoutis have eight mammary glands, and usually two, but up to four, young are born at one time. Mating may occur twice a year, and there is a three-month gestation period. The young are born in a burrow that is dug out among limestone boulders, along river banks, or under the roots of trees. The nest is lined with leaves, roots, and hair. The life span of agoutis in captivity is 13-20 years.
Other members of the family Dasyproctidae, include pacas, Itapeizcuinte, Ihei, or Iconejos pintados of the genus Cuniculus, which are bigger than agoutis and have spotted stripes, and the members of the genus Myoprocta, known as Iacushi or Iacuchi, agouti, Icutia de rabo, Icutiaia, or Icotiara, which are much smaller than agoutis and have a longer tail. Agoutis (genus Dasyprocta), are also known in their geographical range as Iagutis, Inequis, Icutias, Icotias, Ikonkoni, Icotuzas, and Ipicure.
Members of the genus Plagiodontia inhabit the Dominican Republic (P. aedium) and Haiti (P. hylaeum), and the latter is sometimes incorrectly referred to as agouti or Izagouti. The genus Plagiodontia are rodents of the family Capromyidae and correctly called Hispaniolan hutias or jutias.