Are you ready to learn about one of the world’s most fascinating creatures? Meet the capybara – the world’s largest rodent. With friendly and careless characteristics, this animal captivates anyone who comes across it. Join me as we dive into the world of these incredible animals and discover what makes them so special.
1. Capybaras are the World’s Largest Living Rodents
The capybara (or greater capybara) is the world’s biggest rodent. It has a size of 4 feet (1.2 m) in length, 2 feet (0.6 m) in height, and weighs up to 150 pounds. In comparison to their close relatives, guinea pigs, and cavies, they are significantly bigger.
This species has a hefty barrel shape, with short limbs and a huge head. They don’t have a tail and their digits are partially webbed with short, sturdy claws.
The coat of the animal is long, rough, and slightly sparse. Its dorsal part varies in color, from reddish-brown to gray, whereas the ventral side is a lighter shade of yellow-brown. On mature males, there is a big, hairless hump on their snout, which houses significant sebaceous glands.
In addition to the capybara, the Hydrochoerus genus also includes another species, the lesser capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius). Although similar in appearance, the lesser is smaller.
2. They can stay underwater
Capybaras are found in various regions in South and Central America. They live in Northeast Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, Brazil, Guyana, Uruguay, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru.
As semi-aquatic creatures, these species spend most of their day in water bodies (such as marshes, rivers, ponds, swamps, and lakes) or rest under the shade along the banks.
Despite facing numerous threats, the water’s edge remains an ideal location for these rodents to establish their habitat. This enables them to quickly withdraw and evade predators.
With partially webbed feet, the animals swim pretty well. They share a trait with hippopotamuses, as their ears, nose, and eyes are situated on the top of their head. This positioning enables them to peek above the water’s surface to take a breath and survey their surroundings for any potential threats, while the majority of their body remains concealed underwater.
If threatened, they jump into the water and submerge themselves for as long as 5 minutes. On hot days, they even doze off in the water with their noses resting on the bank’s edge.
Not only are capybaras excellent swimmers, but they’re also skilled on land. They can climb trees well with sharp claws and run as fast as a horse with a speed of up to 35 kph!
3. They need to Live in Groups
These big rodents are known for their highly social behavior, living in groups that range from 10 to 30 individuals of both sexes. During dry seasons, they can gather to create bigger groups around water sources.
These groups protect individuals from predators, secure grazing habitats, and increase their chances of finding a mate. You can hardly see a solitary capybara in the wild because it has nowhere to go without group support. It can’t find a place to graze or a partner to mate with.
Capybara societies tend to be stable over time, with almost the same members and the same territory. In the colonies, females work together to raise their young, while males enforce a tight dominance hierarchy through chasing. The group also looks out for vulnerable young to protect them from predators.
4. They communicate through sounds and smell
Capybaras are very loud creatures. They emit various sounds such as cackling, screeching, whistling, grunting, whining, barking, teeth-chattering, clicking, and even purring to communicate with other members of the group.
Each of these sounds carries a specific meaning and is unique to their social group. Some sounds (barkings) serve as warnings of danger, while others are used as signals for movement or to keep track of their juveniles. The young are also very vocal. They produce non-stop sounds.
Besides the sound, these species also communicate through their scent, particularly in breeding and asserting dominance. The morillo gland on top of the male’s snout produces a white substance. The smell of this liquid functions as an olfactory “fingerprint,” indicating the status of a capybara.
The males will rub this scent on shrubs or trees to demarcate territory or spread it on their body to announce their position and eagerness to mate.
Additionally, both males and females have two glands on either side of their anus that produce a liquid. This appears to be used to help them recognize group members and delineate territory.
5. Animals love them
Look at the picture below, what do you see? A capybara is among other animals, from turtles, monkeys, rabbits, birds, and even crocodiles. Can you believe it?! This giant rodent can stay beside one of the world’s deadliest creatures safe and sound.
They sometimes become surrogate mothers to abandoned animals such as dogs, cats deer, and turtles. You can see more here.
As herbivores, these species pose no threat to other species and they are super friendly. If you have time, just go to the zoo or wildlife park that has capybaras to see how friendly they are. These species don’t give a damn what’s going on around them as long as they are safe and don’t get threatened.
This rodent has a mutually beneficial relationship with birds like the yellow-headed caracara. The birds feed on insects that reside on the capybaras’ backs, and in return, the rodents are freed from the bothersome pests.
These reasons make these creatures one of the most lovable species on the planet. They are so famous that people make a Capybara song for them.
6. They Eat Poop and plants
Capybaras, a species of vegetarian animals, predominantly consume aquatic plants, bark, grasses, and fruits. With 2 long and sturdy front teeth, they can effortlessly slice through grasses. Their teeth, like those of other rodents, keep growing and never stop. That’s why these creatures have to crush and chew on food or bark to wear them down.
Depending on the season, their diet changes. In the dry season, they supplement their diet with squash, reeds, melon, and grains. These creatures are hearty eaters, with adults eating anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds (2.7 to 3.6 kg) of fresh grass each day.
They frequently forage at dawn and dusk, when temperatures are lower and predators are less active. During the day, they take turns having short naps.
Capybaras have a particular digestive adaption that allows them to regurgitate and re-chew their food, like cows, goats, and giraffes. This characteristic helps the species digest their very fibrous food better.
Furthermore, they consume their own feces each morning, which contains helpful bacteria. This practice enhances their protein absorption and assists in the breakdown of grass fibers for better digestion.
Capybaras exhibit year-round breeding, with a higher rate during the onset of the rainy season. They’re polygynous species, they can mate with multiple partners. Dominant males in groups attempt to dominate mating activity, although this can be difficult, particularly in bigger groups. Females have the liberty to mate with both dominant and inferior males.
As a female enters estrus, a male will closely follow her for extended periods before mating. However, during this time, the male is frequently chased away by a more dominant male, who subsequently assumes his position.
These rodents mate in the water for only a few seconds. The gestation period of a female lasts for 150 days, after which she gives birth to a litter of 2 – 8 offspring. Newborn capybaras are precocious and can stand and walk soon after birth. Within a week, they can graze, and at around 3 months, they are weaned. During this time, they are fed by their mother and other females in the group.
They move around together and stay with the group for a year. They are young, small, sluggish, and prone to exhaustion, rendering them highly susceptible to predators. That’s why they need to depend on the group for their survival.
In the wild, capybaras can live for up to a decade. However, their lifespan in captivity is a little longer.
8. Predators and threats
These chill creatures are preyed upon by many predators, including wildcats such as pumas, ocelots, and jaguars, as well as snakes such as anacondas and marsh reptiles like caimans. Their young are often attacked by birds of prey like vultures and eagles. However, humans are their greatest threat. These animals are hunted extensively for their meat and hide.
At present, the conservation status of these species is Least Concern. However, the destruction of their natural habitat from deforestation or water contamination could pose a future threat. In fact, certain regions have already seen a drop in their populations due to hunting and habitat destruction.
To alleviate some of the pressure on wild populations, some countries have begun farming capybaras as an alternative source.