Overview

The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), native to South America, is the largest rodent in the world. Capybaras are closely related to guinea pigs and have robust, barrel-shaped body, short head, and a muzzle that appears blunt. The entire body is covered with reddish-brown fur that is sparse and coarse, allowing the capybara to dry off quickly. The capybara’s ears and eyes are small and sit high on its head, giving it excellent senses to avoid predators, even when partially submerged in water.

 

Capybaras are semi-aquatic and spend a lot of their time in the water. They have webbed feet which aid them in swimming, and they can even stay submerged for up to five minutes to hide from predators. They are most active during the dawn and dusk, displaying a crepuscular lifestyle, but their activity level can vary depending on the climate and human activity in their habitat. Capybaras live in groups of 10 to 20, although larger groups of up to 100 have been reported.

 

Capybaras are herbivores, primarily feeding on grasses and aquatic plants. They have a specialized digestive system to ferment large quantities of fiber in their diet. The animals also consume their feces, a process known as coprophagy, which allows them to further extract nutrients from the plant matter they consume.

Physical Description:

Capybaras exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females being slightly larger than males. Their body is barrel-shaped, sturdy, and robust. The fur is coarse, sparse, and reddish-brown to gray. They have short, blunt muzzles, small eyes, and ears, and their legs are relatively short compared to their body size.

They have a cleft upper lip, and their nostrils are high on the snout, enabling breathing while mostly submerging in water. Capybaras have large incisors and a dental pattern similar to other rodents. Their front and middle toes are partially webbed, which is excellent for swimming. Capybaras have no tail, and their anal glands secrete a noticeable musky odor.

Lifespan: Wild: ~10 years || Captivity: ~12 years

Weight: Male & Female: 77-146 lbs (35-66 kg)

Length: Male & Female: 42-51 in (106-134 cm)

Height: Male & Female: 20-24 in (50-62 cm)

Top Speed: 22 mph (35 km/h)

Native Habitat:

Capybaras inhabit the savannahs and dense forests near bodies of water in South America. They are excellent swimmers and prefer habitats close to water bodies such as rivers, lakes, swamps, ponds, and marshes. They use water as a refuge from predators like jaguars, anacondas, and caiman.

Water is also an essential part of their thermoregulation. They wallow in water during the day’s heat to keep their body temperature down. Capybaras even sleep in the water, keeping their noses just above the water level so they can breathe.

Climate Zones:
Biogeographical Realms:
Continents:
Diet:

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Capybaras are strict herbivores; their diet mainly consists of grasses and aquatic plants. They can consume 6-8 lbs (2.7-3.6 kg) of grass daily. During the dry season or when their preferred food is scarce, capybaras eat grains, melons, reeds, and squashes.

Their specialized gut helps them ferment the food and extract maximum nutrition from their high-fiber diet. Capybaras are coprophagous, meaning they eat their feces to absorb more nutrients on the second pass through the digestive system. This is particularly beneficial for breaking down cellulose in the grass and obtaining vitamin B produced in their intestines.

Mating Behavior:

Mating Description:

Capybaras have a polygynous mating system where a dominant male mates with multiple females. The mating process usually happens in the water. Males compete for the right to mate with females, often using aggression to secure access to potential partners.

Female capybaras have a gestation period of around 130 to 150 days and will give birth to a litter of 2 to 8 pups. The young capybaras are precocial, well-developed, and can follow their mother around shortly after birth. They can eat grass after a week but continue to suckle—from any female in the group—until weaned at about 16 weeks.

Reproduction Season:

Year-round
Birth Type:

Pregnancy Duration:

~150 Days

Female Name:

Female

Male Name:

Male

Baby Name:

Pup

Social Structure Description:

Capybaras are highly social animals and live in groups of 10 to 20 individuals on average, though larger groups of up to 100 have been documented. These groups typically consist of a dominant male, several females, juveniles, and a few subordinate males.

The social structure is hierarchical, with the dominant male prioritizing access to resources and mating rights with the females. Capybaras communicate using a variety of vocalizations, scent marking, and physical contact. Their social nature helps them protect against predators, as multiple eyes and ears can detect threats more effectively.

Groups:

School
Conservation Status:
Population Trend:

Population:

Wild: Unknown || Captivity: Unknown

Population:

Capybaras are considered common throughout their range, and the IUCN lists them as a species of “Least Concern.” However, precise population figures are hard to come by due to their wide distribution and the challenges of conducting a comprehensive census of this semi-aquatic species.

While capybaras are hunted for their meat and hide, and sometimes for the pet trade, they can quickly recover their numbers due to their high reproductive rate. Nevertheless, they may be locally threatened in some areas due to habitat loss and overhunting.

Population Threats:

The most significant threats to capybara populations include habitat destruction, particularly the draining of wetlands and hunting. They are hunted for their meat and skin throughout much of their range.

In some areas, capybaras are considered agricultural pests and are killed because they can cause substantial damage to crops. Disease transmission, such as leptospirosis to livestock, can also contribute to negative perceptions of capybaras and targeted killings.

Conservation Efforts:

Capybaras are protected in some areas, and hunting them is restricted during their breeding seasons. Some regions have implemented management strategies, with hunting quotas set based on population surveys.

In addition, efforts to protect and restore wetland habitats benefit capybaras. Some captive breeding programs exist, mainly in zoos, which can help support educational and awareness-raising initiatives about this unique species.

Additional Resources:

Fun Facts

  • Capybaras are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes.
  • Capybara’s scientific name, Hydrochoerus, means ‘water hog’ in Greek.
  • Their teeth never stop growing to compensate for the constant wear from eating grasses.
  • Capybaras often ally with birds such as the wattled jacana which eat insects off their bodies.
  • Capybaras can sleep in water, keeping only their noses out to breathe.
  • Baby Capybaras are able to run and swim shortly after birth.
  • Capybaras communicate using a variety of sounds including purrs, barks, whistles, and grunts.
  • Despite their size, Capybaras are quick on their feet and can reach speeds up to 22 mph.
  • Many other species are often seen using the Capybara as a lounging platform, including birds and monkeys.
  • The Capybara’s droppings are often used by other animals to mark their territory.