Capybara Facts: Animals of South America

The largest rodent in the world, these critters roam in groups of up to 100 members and are agile on both land and sea.

Physical Description

The capybara, whose scientific name is Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, is the largest rodent in the world. It has a very short head, upon which its eyes and ears are located, atop a barrel-like body. The capybara is covered by fur raging from reddish-brown to yellowish-brown in color. Its body is slightly crawled, and its tail is short and vestigial. Its hind legs are slightly longer than are its forelegs. Adults weigh between 77 and 146 pounds, with typical body lengths of 3.48 to 4.4 feet. Females are usually heavier than males.


Capybaras are herbivorous grazers. Grasses, aquatic plants, tree bark, and fruits are their most important food sources. Their diet changes slightly across different seasons. In drier seasons, they have to eat widely from many different kinds of plants, as fewer options are available, whereas in wetter seasons they prefer to eat more grass. An unusual fact about their is that capybaras are autocoprophagous, in the sense that they eat their own feces to get bacterial gut flora, which helps them to digest cellulose in the grass that they eat. Similar to cows, they are constantly seen grazing and chewing upon grasses.

Habitat and Range

Capybaras usually live in densely forested areas near bodies of water, including ponds, marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes. They can be found in savannahs, as well as rivers within tropical forests. They also tend to roam quite far from their home habitats quite often. They are known adapt well to captivity and urbanization, with many living comfortably in zoos and parks. Capybaras can be found throughout most countries of South America, and some have also been found as far north as the southern US. Although they are hunted for their meat and skins, capybaras are not considered a threatened species. The ICUN classifies them as "Least Concerned" on their Red List of Endangered Species.


Capybaras are usually gregarious and very social, commonly being found in large groups. While the average scale of these groups' sizes are usually 10 to 20, they can be as large as 100 members strong. Each group is usually comprised by several adults males and females and their many juvenile offspring. Social bonds are established among members of each group, and males protect the females and children. Capybaras are also territorial, marking their territory and objects with their scent glands and urine. They adapt to land and water equally well, being both very fast runners and skilled swimmers. They can even sleep submerged with just one nostril out of the water to take in air.


When female capybaras produce reproductive hormones, their scent changes subtly, and they usually whistle through their noses, informing the males that it is time for sexual pursuit and activity. Females have the power to choose who to mate with but, once paired, males become very protective of their females, and the dominant males take the responsibility to prevent others from copulating with their partners. While they mate only in water, they give birth on land following a gestation period of 130 to 150 days, with a litter usually having four babies. After birth, mothers and the babies join the larger groups of mothers in their communities. Capybaras' young grow very fast, though they will continue to suckle until weaning after around 16 weeks.

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