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They are native to Middle America, northern and central South America, and the southern Lesser Antilles. Some species have also been introduced elsewhere in the West Indies. They are related to guinea pigs and look quite similar, but are larger and have longer legs. The species vary considerably in colour, being brown, reddish, dull orange, greyish or blackish, but typically with lighter underparts. Their bodies are covered with coarse hair which is raised when alarmed. They weigh 2.4–6 kg (5.3–13.2 lb) and are 44.5–76 cm (17.5–29.9 in) in length, with short, hairless tails.
Agoutis are found in forested and wooded areas in Central and South America. Their habitats include rainforests, savannas and, nowadays, cultivated fields, depending on the species. They conceal themselves at night in hollow tree trunks or in burrows among roots.