STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
RANGE: South America
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Capybaras are the world’s largest rodents. They are semi-aquatic and spend most of their time in and around water. They have often been described as looking like overgrown guinea pigs, which is not a surprise since they are closely related. When fully grown, capybaras weigh between eighty and one hundred fifty pounds and can stand around two feet tall, with a total body length of four and a half feet.
They have big, barrel-shaped bodies with somewhat square heads. Capybaras have long, coarse hair that varies in shades of golden or reddish-brown. The capybara’s fur is made to retain heat and dry quickly after leaving the water. Their ears can be pressed flat against their heads in order to prevent water from getting in. Capybaras can stay underwater and hold their breath for up to five minutes. Their eyes, nose, and mouth are all located near the top part of their head, which allows them to see and breathe while the rest of their body remains underwater. Their front teeth, like all rodents, never stop growing. They have slightly webbed feet with large claws, which help them swim and walk on slippery surfaces.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
They live in groups of around ten to twenty capybaras and are extremely social. These groups typically include one dominant male, several females, their offspring, and a few lower level males. The dominant male is usually the heaviest and largest of the capybaras and will stare down the other males until they are on the outer edges of the group. From time to time a lesser male will challenge the leader, and they will charge at each other, rear up on their back legs, and fight until one backs down. The juvenile males will sometimes be forced out of the group once they meet sexual maturity, making them fend for themselves. When they are not in the group they become easy targets to predators. These include jaguars, pumas, ocelots, harpy eagles, and green anacondas.
Capybaras communicate with whimpering, clicking, purring, and barking noises. They perform warning barks when a predator is near. Living around water for most of their lives, they spend the hottest parts of the day in the water or wallowing in the shade, only grazing during the morning or evening.
Capybaras mate in the water. After a five-month gestation period, the female capybara will give birth to four to five babies. After a few days, when the babies join the rest of the group, they are communally nursed by all the females. Doing this allows all the offspring to stay in the group together. Baby capybaras are not effective swimmers at first, so they stay on land, hiding under brushy cover while the parents swim nearby. Their smaller stature and inability to swim well make them susceptible to many predators. Capybaras typically live eight to ten years in the wild.
They are found in every country in South America besides Chile. They are also found in Central America and have recently been spotted in Florida.
Capybaras are always found near water. They live in swampy, marshy grassland areas, woods and forests next to rivers and lakes. They have been called “master of the grasses” because they like to live in lush, green spaces.
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on water plants or grasses. They will eat around six to eight pounds of grasses each day. They have special digestive adaptations that allow them to absorb enough nutrients from their highly fibrous diet. A large fermentation chamber, or cecum, in their intestines stores and churns the fibrous materials while mixing in bacteria, enzymes, and gases that aid in digestion. Capybaras also eat their own poop, which allows them to get more protein and nutrients from their food then they did the first time they digested it. This process is known as coprophagy.