The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the largest extant rodent in the world. Its closest relatives are agouti, chinchillas, coyphillas and guinea pigs. Native to South America, the capybara inhabits savannas and dense forests and lives near bodies of water. It is a highly social species and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals.
The capybara is diurnal, but when exposed to more human hunting these creatures became more active at night. The World Book Encyclopedia says that the capybara is “the favorite food of jaguars, alligators, and human beings” (201).
The Capybara can be found in several types of social groupings, ranging from simple male-female pairings, to parents and young to larger mixed groups, with one male that is dominant over all the females in that group.
Capybaras live close to the water in groups of about 20. They are excellent swimmers and divers. If they sense danger, they will dive into the water and hide, and they can stay underwater for five minutes. If necessary they can even sleep underwater with only their noses poking out.
Lots of capybara meat is/was eaten by Colombians and Venezuelans who appealed to the Vatican during the 16th century in order to be allowed to eat capybaras during Lent. The pope back then declared the capybara to be a fish; according to a 1991 survey, approximately 400 tons of capybara are eaten each year. Since a capybara weighs about 100 lbs, if one capybara yields 25 lbs of edible stuff, that's about 32,000 capybaras per year down the collective hatch.
Mating is done in the spring. Gestation takes 15-18 weeks and females can give birth to up to seven young at a time. Females will suckle any young within their family group. The young can eat grass within a week after birth. Life expectancy for capybaras is 5-10 years.
In general the capybara will take in about 70 grams of grass a day from grazing. They are selective grazers and tend to select plants rich in protein. Capybaras eat both terrestrial and aquatic plants during their grazing periods. Once the plant is eaten the capybara swallows; later while resting it will regurgitate its food and masticate. Capybaras have a single chambered stomach unlike many mammals that practice rumination.
Capybara calls are unique to the rodent. When a predator is close or approaching they will let out a loud bark. This will continue until the predator leaves or the capybaras retreat into the water for protection. Whistle calls are made by young or infants when in need of their mother and will not terminate unless the mother is seen and returns. Adult females also make this call when seeking an adult male. Similarly the female will not stop until the male has begun to approach. Lastly the “chuckle” is heard among members of the heard (adult females and young) while traveling together in a group.
Their back legs are slightly longer than their front legs and their muzzles are blunt with eyes, nostrils, and ears on top of their head. Females are slightly heavier than males. Females: 36 to 66 kg (80 to 145 pounds). Males: 34 to 61 kilograms (75 to 135 pounds).
The capybara grows to a length of about 1 m (about 3 ft), weighs about 45 kg (about 100 lb), is semiaquatic in its habits, and is a vegetarian.
About the size of a pig, and reaching a maximum weight of 50 kg (110 pounds), the capybara is truly a rodent of unusual size. Capybaras live along rivers in the llanos (plains) of South America, and are often hunted or even ranched for their meat.
Capybara are the largest rodents in the world.