The most abundant group of mammals found in the Amazon basin is the rodent family. In fact, of the estimated 430 species of mammals that make their home in the tropical and subtropical forests of the Amazon, the vast majority are species of either bats or rodents. Worldwide, a remarkable forty percent of mammal species are rodents.
Rodents are mammals of the order Rodentia that use large continuously growing incisors to gnaw at their food. Their name comes from the Latin verb rodere (“to gnaw”).
In the Amazon rainforest, rodent species form part of the complex web of life that makes this the most biologically diverse region on the planet. In the tropical and subtropical forests of South America, both terrestrial and arboreal rodent species are found, and they play an important role in seed germination and the healthy ecology of the forest. Amazon rodent species include mice, rats, porcupines, pacaranas and squirrels, including the Southern Amazon red squirrel (Sciurus spadiceus).
In Peru, Tambopata National Reserve is home to the world’s largest rodent, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), which can weigh between 35 and 77 kilograms (77 to 145 pounds), with the males tending to be much larger than the females. With their brown fur, capybaras look like giant guinea pigs. Known to live in groups of up to thirty individuals, and semi-aquatic in nature, capybaras can be seen at some of the forest’s clay licks, and along riverbanks, particularly during the dry season, when other water sources within the forest are scarce.
Another rodent common to the Amazon rainforest is the agouti (Dasyprocta spp.). Agoutis are charming-looking creatures and are found in many parts of the South American rainforest. As daytime foragers, they are often seen on rainforest trails. Visitors to the Iguazu Falls in Brazil will have seen how agoutis can become accustomed to the presence of humans, even raiding travelers’ backpacks in search of food. In Tambopata National Reserve, agoutis will feed on brazil nuts, a species for which they act as important seed dispersers.
Another rodent species common to the Tambopata area is the bamboo rat (Dactylomys dactylinus). It can grow up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) in length. At home in the thick bamboo groves that grow along the banks of the Tambopata River, this giant nocturnal rat exists on a diet of leaves, and its calls can often be heard from our lodge, ringing out shrilly across the surrounding nighttime rainforest.
The smaller rodents that live in the vicinity of Tambopata Ecolodge are rarely seen, except through the damage they can cause if the guidelines devised by the lodge are not followed by our guests. Like rodents anywhere else in the world, tropical forest rodents are primarily scavengers. Rodents have been known to gnaw through backpacks or suitcases in search of the food they have detected with their keen sense of smell, and travelers to the rainforest should bear this in mind. Lodge guests are advised not to leave any foodstuffs in their room, as they are sure to attract unwanted attention from rodents and other creatures of the forest.