Location: Central and South America
Habitat: swamps, marshes and forests near ponds, lakes, rivers and streams
Capybaras are the largest rodent in the world. They are about 3 ½ to 4 ½ feet long, about 1 ½ feet tall and weigh from 59 to 174 pounds. They have long, coarse hair that is reddish brown to grayish and is yellowish on the underside. They do not have a tail, their limbs are short and they have partially webbed digits with strong claws. Males and females look the same, however, males have a large scent gland on the top of the snout. Like all rodents their two front teeth, incisors, are constantly growing so they need to gnaw and chew to keep the growth down. Like most rodents capybaras are herbivorous, feeding on water plants, grasses, fruit and grain.
They are very social and gather near water in groups of up to 20 individuals. These groups usually include one dominant male, several adult females, their offspring, and subordinate males. They are most active at dusk and dawn but have become nocturnal in areas heavily populated by humans. They mostly sleep during the day but can be found wallowing in the mud during the hottest parts of the day. They communicate using whistles, whimpers, clicking noises and barks.
Capybaras are preyed upon by animals such as jaguars, caimen, ocelots, harpy eagles and large snakes such as the anaconda as well as humans that eat them. They go into the water to escape from predators because only their eyes, ears and nostrils show above the water.
In many areas, populations are stable. However, in some countries hunting and extermination have lowered population levels. In areas with cattle ranches they thrive due to the low predation, availability of water during the dry season, and the quality of the grasses (due to frequent burnings). Capybaras are farmed commercially for meat and leather. The fatty skin is the source of a certain grease used in the pharmaceutical field. In some areas, they are seen as agricultural pests because they raid fields of sugar cane and watermelon. They also can compete with cattle for food during the dry season.
Back to Our Animals
Ciszek, D. and C. Winters. 1999. "Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web.
Accessed March 22, 2004 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Hydrochaeris_hydrochaeris.html
Enchabted Learning. “Capybara”.
Missouri Botanical Garden. “Rainforest animals: Capybara”.
Sedgwick County Zoo. “Capybara: Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris”.