Capybara – facts, habitat, diet and size with pictures

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Updated: November 4, 2016

The Capybara gets the name capybara from the Brazilian language, Tupi. The name translates to mean “the one who eats slender leaves”. Just like other rodents, this animal has teeth that are very sharp, but it rarely bites human beings, therefore it is not considered to be a threat. It is the largest rodent in terms of size.


They like to live in wetlands and they can hold their breath underwater for long periods. If threatened, they can stay underwater for up to five minutes so as to hide from the threat. Humans consume their meat, especially around during the lent period.

This animal also called “the master of the grasses” by the amazon tribe, the capybara does not have a tail. It has a lifespan of about 10 years, although in the wild, they normally live up to 4 years as a result of predation, being hunted by animals such as puma, caiman, eagles, jaguar, anaconda and ocelot.

Capybaras are mainly found in South America although they also occur in various places around the world as a result of those in captivity escaping and forming new populations such as in Florida.

Looking hefty and chubby, you would be surprised to know that the capybara can actually run as fast as a horse.

These animals rub their morillos on objects as an act to mark their territory or they also use their anal glands when they walk over shrubs. Even the females do scent marking, although not very often as compared to males.


Characteristics of the Capybara

The capybara or scientifically known as  the  Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, a huge rodent from the group of Hydrochoerus, the same as the secondary capybara. It is closely related to the guinea pig. It is also related to the chinchillas and coypu.

The capybara is found in South America, living in the savannas and dense forests though close to water bodies. It is a semi-aquatic rodent and therefore it has always lived close to water bodies or wetland areas such as in estuaries, river banks, streams, swamps and marshes.

This animal has a short head while the body is similar to the shape of a barrel, in which the upper portion is covered in fur which is reddish-brown in color, while the underneath is yellowish-brown. However, unlike other rodents, it has sweat glands in the furry parts of the skin.

Capybaras can grow to a length of about 4 feet long and up to 60 centimeters in height. The female weighs more than the male, weighing up to 91 kilograms as the heaviest female recorded and 73 kilograms as the heaviest male ever recorded. The average weight however, ranges at about 50 kilograms.

With their liking for wet areas, the capybara is adapted to these conditions, having feet that are slightly webbed to enable it to move through wet areas swiftly as well as to enable it to swim well. The forelegs have four toes and are slightly shorter than the hind legs which have three toes.



The capybara is herbivorous, feeding on different grasses and aquatic plants too. However they also eat various fruits such as melons and barks of certain trees. This animal is a selective feeder, feeding on specific types of leaves while ignoring other leaves, but this is mainly during the rainy season.

Throughout the season in which little rain falls however, the capybara will consume the leaves of a variety of trees since there are fewer plants and leaves available. During the rainy season, they eat a lot of grass but once drought sets in, the diet changes to what is available, with the main alternative being reeds. However, almost 80% of their diet is made up of just five different species of grasses.

Capybaras also eat their feces, which acts as a derivation of microbial gut flora. This bacteria help in the digestion of cellulose found in grass and leaves and it also helps them to get the maximum amount of vitamins and proteins from their diet.

Similar to how some animals chew cud, the capybara disgorge  food to chew again. Their front teeth and cheek teeth are always growing. This continuous growth is important so as to recompense for the tear and wear that occurs on a daily basis as it chews grass.

The capybaras system doesn’t have the ability to synthesize vit.C and if it lacks vit.C it can develop scurvy, which is noted by the presence of a gum disease.  These animals can eat up to 3.5 kilograms of grass in a day.


The Habits of the Capybara

Capybaras are social animals and they will often live in large groups coexisting peacefully. The number of capybara per group will vary; however, on average the number is about 10 to 40 during the rainy season, while during drought or season when there is lesser rain, the number goes up to 100 members in a group.

These groups have a leader, normally a dominant male. One group will occupy a specific range as their territory and the size of the range may vary from five to almost fifty acres. In one group, the ratio of males to females is normally one male for every 4 to about 15 females.

The capybara is a crepuscular animal; therefore it is most active during the twilight hours of the day, which is at dawn and dusk. As a way of adapting to threats, however, the capybara can be nocturnal, being active during the night and spending most of the daytime sleeping and well hidden away from predators.

This enables them to socialize and eat while the darkness provides some cover.

One interesting behavior of the capybara is that it can comfortably sleep in water. They can sleep while submerged in water, keeping only the nose above the water level so as to ensure that they can still breathe.

They normally wallow in water and mud as a means of controlling temperature especially on hot days. Wallowing in the mud also helps to keep away pests and unwanted insects.


Delightful Capybara Pictures









The capybaras are noble beasts; they are the largest rodents on Earth.



The mating period of the capybara is when the female is in estrus, a period in which there are various changes that alert the males. For one, the scent of the female will change during this period. The female will also start whistling, using her nose during this period.

Once the changes occur, the males will start pursuing the females; however it is the female that makes the choice of who she will mate with. The males will often be highly protective of the females to prevent them from mating with other males.

Interestingly, the capybara will not mate unless in water. The female capybara will simply avoid a specific male by either submerging themselves or by leaving the water when she decided not to mate.  Although the domineering males are able to achieve more mating, a larger number of subordinate males are able to mate since they are more in number. After successful mating, the female capybara will be pregnant for about 150 days, giving birth on land, to a  brood of about 4 on average; however, there are times when the number can go up to 7.

Once they have given birth the female will rejoin the rest of the group. About one week after being born, the young one is able to eat grass, although they suckle until they are around 16 weeks old. The interesting part is that the young one can suckle whichever female it chooses within the group and does not have to suckle its biological mother specifically.

Baby capybaras are totally weaned when they are 16 weeks old. They form their own sub-group within the head group. The main mating periods for the capybara are from April to May, and around October to November.



The conservation of the Capybara

The capybara is a relatively peaceful animal and can coexist peacefully with human beings, although in some areas, it is viewed as a threat or completion, competing for available grazing land with the livestock that human beings have kept. They are gentle and one can even pet them or feed them directly from the hand.

For this reason, there are areas where they are hunted by humans resulted to decreased of their numbers.  They are also hunted especially during the lent period for their meat as some Catholics find it acceptable to eat its meat during that time.

Apart from this, they are not thought to be a vulnerable species and they are mainly living in the wild in large numbers, with their population relatively constant. There are places where the capybara is bred and this helps to ensure that their habitats such as wetlands are preserved and protected.


In other areas, especially in South America, they are farmed for their meat and skin, while in the United States; there are states that allow the keeping of Capybara as pets.

The capybara is well capable of adapting to urbanization and they are found spread in various parks  and zoos.

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