The world's largest rodent
stands 20-25 inches at shoulder, is 3.5-4.5 feet
long, and weighs 77-150 pounds; females are
slightly larger than males.
Built for an aquatic lifestyle, the capybara's
body is barrel-shaped, sturdy, and tailless. The
front legs are slightly shorter than the hind
legs, and the feet are partially webbed, allowing
the animal to walk on wet, spongy ground as
easily as it moves through water. With eyes,
ears, and nostrils positioned on top of the head,
the capybara can stay submerged just under the
surface of the water without losing the ability
to keep track of its environment.
The coarse, thin fur is reddish
brown over most of the body, turning
yellowish brown on the belly and sometimes black
on the face.
The capybara's range extends through most of
South America east of the Andes, from Panama into
the Argentinian pampas. Flooded grasslands are a
favored habitat, as are marsh edges and lowland
forests where grazing is good and there is water
year-round. However, they occupy a range of
habitats, including dry forest, scrub, and
grasslands throughout South America, with a
proximity to a permanent water source being the
Habits and Behaviors
Capybaras live in groups of around 10 adults
of both sexes, although groups can range in size
from 3 to 30 and larger aggregations often form
around water resources during the dry season.
Each group maintains and defends a territory that
encompasses feeding and wallowing sites. Group
living appears to be extremely important to
capybara survival, as "loner capybaras"
are excluded from most grazing habitat and have
no chance of finding a mate. Group membership
changes rarely, and a territory can be maintained
by one group for 3 years or more.
Among males, there is a strict dominance
hierarchy enforced by chasing and, rarely,
Because of their large body size, capybaras
are susceptible to heat stress, and the hottest
part of the day is spent in the water.
Vocalization appears to be very important in
capybara groups, but the purpose of many of the
sounds made is unknown. However, young vocalize
almost constantly and vocal communication among
adults is also common. Individuals bark to warn
the group of danger, this often results in the
whole group rushing into the relative safety of
the water. Scent is also important, especially in
mating and establishing dominance.
Dominant males in social groups try to
monopolize mating activity, but this can be
nearly impossible, especially in larger groups.
Little research has been done on female mate
choice in capybaras, but females have been
observed mating with both dominant and
Capybaras breed throughout the year, with a
peak in breeding activity at the beginning of the
rainy season. The mating takes place in the
The mother gives birth to 2-8 young after a
gestation of about 150 days. Precocial from
birth, the young are able to walk and swim within
hours. They begin eating grass at about a week,
but will not br weaned until about their third
month. Young capybaras stay with their parents'
group until they are about a year old. Both
before and after weaning, the young move around
together in a creche, and some of the work of
parenting (such as suckling and watching for
danger) is shared among all adults in the group.
Little is known about individual parental care in
capybaras, but because of the precocial state of
the young and the system of cooperative parenting
the time and resources spent by each parent after
birth are minimal.
Capybaras have a lifespan of about 6 years in
the wild, and up to 12 years in captivity.
Capybaras feed on grasses and
aquatic plants, as well as bark and fruit. They
are also known to both regurgitate their
food in order to chew it again and also to eat
their own droppings.
genus & species Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Hydrochoerus_hydrochaeris/
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