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The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris In page 57, Darwin says "The largest gnawing animal in the world, the Hydrochaerus Capybara (the water-hog), is here also common."See it also in The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online), also known as capibara, chiguire in Venezuela, ronsoco in Peru, chiguiro, and carpincho in Spanish, J Forero-Montana, J Betancur, J Cavelier. "Dieta del capibara Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris en Cano Limon, Arauca, Colombia", Rev. biol. trop, Jun. 2003, vol.51, no.2, pp. 571578. ISSN 0034-7744. PDF available (English translation) and capivara in Portuguese, is the largest living rodent in the world. Its closest relatives are agouti, chinchillas, coyphillas, and guinea pigs. Its common name, derived from Kapiyva in the Guarani language, means "master of the grasses" while its scientific name, hydrochaeris, is Greek for "water hog".

Capybaras have heavy, barrel-shaped bodies and short heads with reddish-brown fur on the upper part of their body that turns yellowish-brown underneath. Adult capybaras may grow to in length, and weigh up to .The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910) Capybara (from Google Books) The top recorded weight is 105.4 kg . Capybaras have slightly webbed feet, no tail, and 20 teeth. Capybara fact sheet 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.

Fossil record and other species

Though now extinct, there once existed a larger capybara called Neochoerus pinckneyi. Other fossil caviomorphs that were eight times the size of modern capybaras have been called "capybaras" by the popular press, but were actually dinomyids related to the pacarana. There is also a "lesser capybara", Hydrochoerus isthmius.


Capybaras reach sexual maturity within 22 months British Broadcasting Corp., Science and Nature: Animals (Capybara) and breed when conditions are perfect, which can be once per year (such as in Brazil) or throughout the year (such as in Venezuela and Colombia). The male pursues a female and mounts when the female stops in water. Capybara gestation is 130150 days and usually produces a litter of four capybara babies, but may produce between two and eight in a single litter. Birth is on land and the female will rejoin the group within a few hours of delivering the newborn capybaras, who will join the group as soon as they are mobile. Within a week the young can eat grass, but will continue to suckle - from any female in the group - until weaned at about 16 weeks. Youngsters will form a group within the main group. The rainy season of April and May mark the peak breeding season. Like other rodents, the front teeth of capybaras grow continually to compensate for the constant wearing-down from eating grasses; their cheek teeth also grow continuously. When fully grown, a capybara will have coarse hair that is sparsely spread over their skin, making the capybara prone to sunburn. To prevent this, they may roll in mud to protect their skin from the sun.

Capybara have an extremely efficient digestive system that sustains the animal while 75% of its diet encompasses only 3-6 species of plants. Capybara Foraging and Feeding Behavior


Capybara are semi-aquatic mammals found wild in much of South America in densely forested areas near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds and marshes, as well as flooded savannah and along rivers in tropical forest. They roam in home ranges of 2550 acres .

Many escapees from captivity can also be found in similar watery habitats around the world. Though it has been erroneously stated that a population of capybara existed in the River Arno in Florence, Italy, this was determined to be the nutria or coypu (Myocastor coypus), a considerably smaller South American aquatic rodent with a similar appearance.


Capybara is an herbivore, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. An adult capybara will eat 6 to 8 pounds of grasses per day. Capybara's jaw hinge is non-perpendicular and they thus chew food by grinding back and forth rather than side-to-side.

Capybaras are coprophagous, meaning they eat their own faeces as a source of bacterial gut flora and in order to help digest the cellulose in the grass that forms their normal diet and extract the maximum protein from their food. Additionally, they may regurgitate food to masticate the food again, similar to cud-chewing by a cow.


Capybaras are social animals, usually found in groups, between 10 and 30 (though larger groups of up to 100 sometimes can be formed), controlled by a dominant male (who will have a prominent scent gland on his nose used for smearing his scent on the grasses in his territory.) They communicate through a combination of scent and sound, being very vocal animals with purrs and alarm barks, whistles and clicks, squeals and grunts.

Capybaras are excellent swimmers and can survive completely underwater for up to five minutes, an ability they will use to evade predators. If necessary, a Capybara can sleep underwater, keeping its nose just at the waterline.

During midday, as temperatures increase, Capybaras wallow in water and graze in late afternoons and early evenings when it is cooler. They sleep little, usually dozing off and on throughout the day and grazing into and through the night.


They have a life span of 48 years in the wild but average a life less than four years as they are "a favourite food of jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle and caiman". The capybara is the preferred prey of the anaconda, the heaviest snake on Earth, which can reach a length of 7.5 metres.


Capybara are not on the IUCN list and therefore not considered a threatened species; their population is stable through most of their South American ranges, though in some areas hunting has reduced their numbers.

Capybaras are hunted for their meat and pelts in some areas, and otherwise killed by humans who see their grazing as competition for livestock. The skins are particularly prized for making fine gloves because of its unusual characteristic of stretching in just one direction.

In some areas they are farmed, which has the effect of ensuring that the wetland habitats are protected. Their survival is aided by their ability to breed rapidly.

Capybaras can be found in many areas in zoos and parks, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Capybara facts Palm Beach Zoo, Capybara Saint Louis Zoo, Capybara Philadelphia Zoo, Overview & Mission sometimes allowed to roam freely and may live for 12 years in captivity. Bristol Zoo Gardens (UK) Capybara

Human interaction

Capybaras are gentle and will usually allow humans to pet and hand-feed them. Capybara skin is tough, and in some areas where capybaras are wild, they are hunted for meat and their skin, which is turned into a high-quality leather, while some ranchers hunt them for fear of the competition for grazing. The meat is said to look and taste like pork. The capybara meat is dried and salted, then shredded and seasoned. Considered a delicacy, it is often served with rice and plantains.

During the Christian observation of Lent, capybara meat is especially popular as it is claimed that the Catholic church, in a special dispensation, classified the animal as a fish. (cf. Barnacle goose) There are differing accounts of how the dispensation arose. The most cited refers to a group of sixteenth-century missionaries who made a request which implied that the semi-aquatic capybara might be a "fish" and also hinted that there would be an issue with starvation if the animal weren't classified as suitable for Lent.Ellsworth, Brian. "In Days Before Easter, Venezuelans Tuck Into Rodent-Related Delicacy". New York Sun

Capybaras are occasionally kept as pets in the United States and in Canada.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Capybara

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