Wild – 10 years
Captive – 15 years
Grasses, Aquatic Plants
A Guinea Pig but Make it Big…Kind of!
The capybara is a species of rodent which is distantly related to the domesticated guinea pig. The two are often compared with the capybara having been nicknamed a giant guinea pig.
South America is the native home of the capybara where they spend much of their time in aquatic environments with a number of adaptations assisting them with this.
They have risen to prominence in recent years through pop culture such as an appearance in the movie Rio 2 and a Tik Tok trending sound focused on the species.
What does a Capybara look like?
The Capybara has a round barrel like body covered in fur the colour of which can range from a reddish brown to grey and some small amounts of black on the face. These hairs are long and coarse which allows them to stay dry when not in the water.
The capybara enjoys spending much of its day in the water and has developed many adaptations their eyes and ears are small and set high on their head.
Capybara have longer forelegs than backlegs giving their body a sloped appearance. Their toes are slightly webbed to assist them with moving through the water. On the front foot they have four toes while on the back they have three.
These animals do not have a tail.
The average weight of a capybara is 48.9kg (108 lb). Their head and body length is around 106cm to 134cm (42 to 53 in). From the ground to their shoulder the capybara measures on average 60.9cm (2ft). Females tend to be slightly larger than males. Males also feature a large, hairless gland on their snout.
How does the Capybara survive in its habitat?
The capybara has its eyes and ears set on top of their head. This allows them to keep the majority of their body below the waters surface while still being able to see and breathe.
Their teeth grow continuously throughout their life which helps to offset the wear from grazing on grasses.
What does a Capybara eat?
Capybaras are classed as herbivores. Their main diet consists of grasses and aquatic plants. They also eat tree barks and fruits such as melons, squashes and sweet potatoes which they have been known to steal from farms.
The capybara has very selective feeding habits. They use just 5 grasses for 80% of their diet. They will reduce or increase the range of plants they will accept depending on the availability. Prefers to forage in the late afternoon and in the evening.
Capybaras will eat their own faeces to extract the maximum proteins and vitamins from these foods. This also produces gut flora which assists in digesting the cellulose found in their diet. Some food can also be regurgitated so it can be chewed a second time.
Where do you the find the Capybara?
South America is the native home of the capybara. Here they range across the majority of the continent with the exception of Chile.
Where can a Capybara survive?
The capybara can be found from tropical forests to open plains. They always live near a large body of water and in a forested area near to a plain for when aquatic grasses are not as abundant due to water levels.
How does a Capybara produce its young?
The capybara comes onto heat once every 7-8 days. When they do though they are only open to mating for 8 hours. Breeding can take place year round but a peak occurs in the rainy season.
The female emits a whistle when on heat and the dominant male will sniff her frequently when this occurs. Females will mate with both dominant and subordinate males within their herd. A second male may interrupt the pair while they are mating. The pair mate in the water and the female has been known to dive under if she chooses not to mate. The breeding couples are regularly interrupted by a second male.
The rest of the group is essential to raising the young with groups of less than four know to not raise young.
The babies are born after a 150 day gestation, the longest of any rodent. Normally one litter is produced each year. This can include between 4 and 8 babies. Older females tend to be the ones who produce larger litters.
Females will provide milk to the pups for the first 10 weeks of life. Both in the wild and in captivity the species has been observed to use a nursery system to raise pups. In this system a single female will provide food for all pups in a herd. This is rotated among the various nursing mothers of the herd.
Pups are able to swim as soon as they are born.
They leave their birth group roughly a year after being born.
Females become sexually mature at about 7 to 12 months of age. Males will generally reach maturity around 15 to 24 months of age.
What does the Capybara do during its day?
The capybara rests, during the heat of the day, in mud or in water. They then graze throughout the evening and afternoon. Due to humans coming into their habitat capybaras are becoming a more nocturnal species.
They will congregate in groups of 40 to 100 which fluctuate in size with the wet and dry seasons. The average group will use between 2 and 20 hectares of land but some have been known to use areas up to 200 hectares in size. Each group is headed by a dominant males will several females and their young. Several subordinate males may also move with the group but remain on the fringes. Groups move through the forest in lines and create well-defined trails as they move.
Capybaras defend their territories and both genders scent mark. Young will play in groups and imitate the group’s males.
To help cool down they have been observed to wallow in mud. The mud also helps protect their skin which can be damaged by the sun.
The capybara has a range of vocalisations which it uses to communicate with others in the group. At least seven unique vocalizations have been recorded from this species.
Some bird species have symbiotic relationships with the capybara. They may sit on them or fly near them to eat insects which jump out of the way when the capybara moves along and they also have been seen eating ticks off the capybara.
Capybara are successful swimmers who regularly go in to the water. They can remain submerged below the surface for between 5 and 7 minutes at a time.
Predators and Threats
What stops the Capybara from surviving and thriving?
To avoid predators they will move to the water and remain submerged below the water.
Across much of their range the species is used a food source by humans. Some farming occurs which is used both for meat and leather. Habitat loss is an emerging threat but in the short term this appears to benefit the species through reduced numbers of predators.
The capybara is the world’s largest rodent. They are one of two capybara species with the other being slightly smaller and known as the lesser capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius).
Their name is taken from a word meaning “master of the grasses.” The scientific name is taken from Greek and roughly translates as ‘water hog.’
Capybaras are occasionally kept as pets in the United States.
This species was described for science by Linnaeus during 1766.
Due to their swimming habit the capybara was once classified by the Catholic Church as a fish which allowed their meat to be consumed during lent.
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