The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the largest rodent in the world. They are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle and are often found near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds. They are social animals by nature, and they have gained a level of fame worldwide for their seeming ability to make individuals from other species feel at ease in their presence. Lets talk more about it.
COMMON NAME: Capybara
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
GROUP NAME: Herd
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: Up to 7 years
SIZE: 4.6 feet long: up to 2 feet high at shoulders
WEIGHT: 77 – 143 pounds
The capybara or greater capybara is a giant cavy rodent native to South America. It is the largest living rodent and a member of the genus Hydrochoerus. Well, some classifications list capybaras as the only members of family Hydrochoeridae, whereas others place them within the subfamily Hydrochoerinae of the family Caviidae.
These impressive mammals are found throughout much of northern and central South America. Its range extends throughout most of Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Columbia, south into the Argentinian pampas, and west to the Andes. Small invasive population has been seen in Florida. They’re closely related to guinea pigs and rock cavies, and more distantly related to chinchillas and agouti.
Capybaras have a head that resembles that of a guinea pig, small ears, and a short snout. Their fur is coarse and thin, and is reddish brown over most of the body, turning yellowish brown on the belly and sometimes black on the face. The body is barrel-shaped, sturdy, and tailless. The front legs are slightly shorter than the hind legs, and the feet are partially webbed. The animal lacks down hair, and its guard hair differs little from over hair.
Capybaras are quite large, with adults weighing between 77 and 146 pounds (35 to 66 kilograms). Females of this species are slightly larger than males. The top recorded weights are 91 kg (201 lb) for a wild female from Brazil and 73.5 kg (162 lb) for a wild male from Uruguay.
Capybaras are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle and are often found near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds.
The capybara inhabits savannas and dense forests, and lives near bodies of water. It is a highly social species and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals, but usually live in groups of 10–20 individuals. Each group maintains and defends a territory that encompasses feeding and wallowing sites.
These animals are excellent swimmers and are often found in or near water. They can stay submerged for a considerable amount of time to evade predators.
They are known for their vocalizations, which include purring, barking, and whistling sounds.
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. They are very selective feeders and feed on the leaves of one species and disregard other species surrounding it. They eat a greater variety of plants during the dry season, as fewer plants are available. While they eat grass during the wet season, they have to switch to more abundant reeds during the dry season.
They are also cophrophagous and spend part of each morning re-ingesting the previous day’s food. They also eat their own feces in the morning. They rest around midnight and then continue to graze before dawn
Capybaras live about 6 years on average (and as many as 10 years) in the wild and up to 12 years in captivity. They have adapted well to urbanization in South America. They can be found in many areas in zoos and parks.
Their breeding season varies throughout the year depending on what habitat they live in and the availability of mates. They are prolific breeders and can have litters of 2 to 8 pups. The gestation period is about 150 days. Female capybaras are attentive mothers, and both parents contribute to the care of the offspring. The young, known as pups, are precocial and can begin grazing on vegetation within a few days of birth.
Little is known about individual parental care in capybaras, but it seems that, because of the precocial state of the young and the system of cooperative parenting, the time and resources spent by each parent after birth are minimal.
Their pig-shaped bodies are adapted for life in bodies of water found in forests, seasonally flooded savannas, and wetlands. Their toes are partially webbed for paddling around, and their reddish to dark brown fur is long and brittle—perfect for drying out quickly on land. Small eyes, noses, and hairless ears are located high on their heads so that their faces remain exposed and alert when most of their body is submerged.
While capybaras are not fully domesticated, some people in South America keep them as pets. They are known for their gentle nature, but their semi-aquatic needs can make them challenging to care for in certain environments.
During their early stages of life, capybaras face considerable predation from a diverse array of formidable predators, establishing them as a crucial food source in various ecosystems. Vulnerable capybara pups are susceptible to the predatory tactics of apex predators such as anacondas, known for their constricting abilities, as well as caimans, the South American relatives of alligators and crocodiles, which pose a threat to young capybaras in and around aquatic environments.
Jaguars, powerful and adept swimmers, are another significant threat, ambushing capybaras, especially near water sources. Even humans contribute to the predation pressure on capybaras, as they are hunted for their meat and skin in certain regions.
The capybara is listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In other words, they are not considered a threatened species; their population is stable throughout most of their South American range, though in some areas hunting has reduced their numbers. Capybaras are hunted for their meat and pelts in some areas.
Herrera, E., D. Macdonald. 1993. Aggression, dominance, and mating success among capybara males. Behavior Ecology, 4: 2: 114-119.
Herrera, E., D. Macdonald. 1989. Resource Utilization and Territoriality in Group-Living Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). Journal of Animal Ecology, 58:2: 667-679.
Maldonado-Chaparro, A., D. Blumstein. 2008. Management implications of capybara social behavior. Biological Conservation, 141: 8: 1945-1952.
Ojasti, J. 1968. Notes on the mating behavior of the capybara. Journal of Mammalogy, 49: 3: 534-535.