What Is a Capybara?
The capybara is a semi-aquatic mammal species that belongs to the order of rodents. On average, this species grows to around 4 feet in length, 2 feet in height, and up to 100 pounds in weight, making it the largest rodent in the world. The capybara has a heavy body in proportion to the size of its legs, which are longer in the back than in the front. This large rodent is covered in a dark reddish-brown fur with lighter-colored fur around its nose and mouth. Its dark grey skin can be seen underneath the fur in some places. The capybara is a social animal that lives in large groups; the largest of these groups is recorded at 100, although groups of 10 are far more common. Its habitat ranges from lowland plains to rainforests, although its home is always near a body of water (lakes, rivers, and swamps, for example). Its diet consists of plants growing near the water, where this species eats between 6 and 8 pounds of grasses every day. This species has physically adapted to an aquatic lifestyle with its eyes and nose located near the top of its head. This positioning allows the capybara to remain submerged in the water while it takes a quick breath of air and scans the area for possible predators. If necessary, the capybara can hold its breath for nearly 5 minutes to avoid danger.
How Many Species of Capybaras Exist?
The capybara belongs to the Hydrochoerus genus and is divided into two living species: the H. hydrochaeris and the H. isthmius. Two other species, the H. gaylordi, and the H. ballesterensis, have gone extinct.
The H. hydrochaeris, also known as the carpincho, has a large distribution area throughout South America. It has been recorded in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. In Venezuela and Brazil, this species breeds all year round. Its gestation lasts for approximately 4 months and it gives birth to between 3 and 4 offspring. The H. hydrochaeris is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because it has a large population size, the majority of which are living in protected areas.
The H. isthmius, also known as the lesser capybara, has a much smaller distribution area. This species can be found in the western regions of Venezuela, the northwestern regions of Colombia, and the eastern regions of Panama. It is believed to be less common in Venezuela than in the other countries. The gestation period of this species is shorter than the other species at between 104 and 111 days. It gives birth to between 2 and 8 offspring. Because of a lack of information about this particular species, the IUCN has not yet classified its conservation status.
Threats Facing the Capybara
The capybara faces a number of threats during its life, including natural and man-made. Both species are threatened by increasing deforestation due to the lumber and agricultural industries. Additionally, their aquatic habitats are under threat as development projects drain out the water to make way for construction projects. The capybara is also hunted as a food source by some local communities and its skin is valued as a source of leather.