Hydrochoerus – Capybaras

We are two extinct and two living species of rodents native to South America

Capybaras, derived from the Greek words ‘hýdor’ (water) and ‘choíros’ (pig), is a genus that includes the largest living rodents on our planet. These remarkable creatures, often affectionately called “water pigs,” have adapted perfectly to life in and around water bodies. Their habitat spans densely forested areas with rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, marshes, and ponds, primarily in South America. This semi-aquatic lifestyle is a defining characteristic of capybaras, setting them apart from other rodent species.

Within this genus are two recognized species: the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) and the lesser capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius). Despite their size difference, both species share many of the same habits and habitats. Capybaras are highly social animals, known for forming large groups that can sometimes include up to 100 individuals. These groups help protect them from predators, facilitate the finding of mates, and contribute to the overall well-being of each member through social interactions.

Thanks to their webbed feet and streamlined bodies, capybaras are exemplary swimmers and divers. Their eyes, ears, and nostrils are positioned high on their heads, allowing them to remain mostly submerged while keeping a lookout for predators. This adaptation is crucial for their survival, enabling them to evade threats by taking to the water. Their diet mainly consists of grasses and aquatic plants, reflecting their dependency on water-rich environments.

The reproductive system of capybaras is also notable. They can breed throughout the year, with a peak in reproduction coinciding with the rainy season when resources are abundant. This timing ensures that the young have the best chance of survival. Capybaras have a gestation period of about 150 days and can give birth to litters of up to eight pups, although the average is around four. These pups are highly precocious and can eat grass within a week of birth, though they continue to nurse for much longer.

Despite not being listed as endangered, capybaras face habitat destruction and hunting threats. They are hunted for their hide, meat, and the grease extracted from their thick skin, used in various industries. Such practices threaten capybara populations and disrupt the ecological balance of their habitats.