Capybaras are large, semi-aquatic rodents found in water-logged regions of South and Central America. They’re related to South American rodents such as Guinea pigs and Chinchillas. They can reach up to 1.4 meters long and weigh 75 kg, making them the largest rodents in the world. Despite their large size however, they’re great swimmers, thanks to their webbed toes, which also explains their scientific names ‘Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris’, which translates to water hog.
Anatomy of a Capybara
Capybaras are heavy and stocky-looking mammals, with a noticeably shorter head for its body and muzzle. They hardly have tails, and their short but sturdy limbs comes with hoof-like claws with webbing in between, allowing them to swim freely in the rivers, traverse the slippery banks and keep them from sinking into the mud. Their fur is short and coarse are perfectly designed by nature to dry out quickly. While their colors range from dark to pale brown, with varying tinges of red, yellow, grey.
Their most noticeable physical characteristics is that, their ears, eyes, and nose are all positioned on top of their head, allowing them to see clearly and smell easily while their body is underwater.
Capybaras are found through various habitats in Central and South America, as long as there’s a source of freshwater. They’re found throughout the rivers, swamps, marshes and lakes of Colombia, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and even down to Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina. They also dwell on grassy plains as well as rainforests where they live in herds.
They’re found near the water during dry season, and they opt to the grassy banks during wet season.
Typical Behavior of Capybaras
Capybaras are highly sociable animals. They live in herds of about 20 individuals and inhabit places with dense vegetation and reliable source of freshwater. Their herd is ruled by an alpha male with male subordinates, females and their young. Though some parts of their herd may overlap territories of other herds, they usually chase intruders away from their patch.
They sleep very little; as they prefer to spend more time to doze. They can be found resting in thickets on banks in the morning; or lurching in the water or mud to cool down during the day. They graze the land in early evening; and continue to walk around most of the night.
Capybaras Life Cycle and Reproduction
In the wild and with their herd, only the dominant male has the breeding rights to the females. They can breed all year, depending on the conditions. Their breeding season is usually on rainy season (April and May). Female capybaras gestate for about 5 months, and can give birth to somewhere between 1 to 8 pups, on land.
Young capybaras are already well developed at birth. They have their fur, can see and even run, swim and dive hours after birth. The female then rejoins the herd within hours after giving birth. Young capybaras can also eat grass within the week of their birth, though they continue to suckle milk from their mothers.
Capybaras can live for more than 10 years in the wild and a bit longer in captivity.
Capybaras are herbivores, which mean they only eat plants and plant matter. Their diet usually consist grass, berries, fruits, aquatic plants, sometimes soft tree bark. Like other rodents, they have two large front teeth which they use for gnawing, grinding and chewing food in back and forth motion (not side by side). They can be fussy with their diet, with 75% involving 3 to 6 different types of plants.
Like cows, they also regurgitate their food and chew them again. And they may eat their own droppings, which aids their digestive system.