Capybara

Communicate using various vocalizations such as whistles, whinnies, and growls

Kevin Schafer

With its distinction as the world’s largest living rodent, it commands a presence in the wetlands of South America that is as gentle as it is imposing. Originating from the Tupi language of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, the term “Capybara” translates to “grass eater,” a fitting name for these herbivorous giants who thrive on a diet primarily composed of aquatic plants and grasses. Their reddish-brown fur, which lightens to a yellowish-brown around the belly, combined with their barrel-shaped bodies and short heads, make them easily recognizable and quite distinctive from other rodents.

Adapted perfectly to their aquatic environment, Capybaras are exceptional swimmers, using their webbed feet to navigate the waterways of their habitat. They can even remain submerged for up to five minutes at a time to hide from predators or to cool off during the heat of the day. The water plays a crucial role in their lifestyle, offering not only refuge from predators but also a source of the aquatic vegetation that forms a significant part of their diet.

Capybaras live in social groups, often consisting of 10 to 20 individuals, though larger groups of up to 100 have been observed around abundant food sources. These groups are structured around a dominant male, with a clear hierarchy that helps reduce conflicts within the group. The social nature of Capybaras facilitates protection against predators, enhances foraging efficiency, and aids in the care of young within the group.

Their diet, rich in coarse grasses, requires capybaras to have a specialized digestive system. They practice autocoprophagy, consuming their feces to re-ingest the gut bacteria necessary for breaking down cellulose and extracting the maximum possible nutrients from their plant-based diet. This process allows them to thrive on a diet that is relatively low in nutritional value.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Argentina
2016
Bolivia
2016
Brazil
2016
Colombia
2016
Ecuador
2016
Guyana
2016
Paraguay
2016
Peru
2016
Uruguay
2016
Venezuela
2016

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No