25 Interesting Facts About Capybaras

  1. Capybaras are large brownish rodents native to South America. These semiaquatic mammals have short legs, small ears, short hairs, and negligible tails. Their closest relatives are rock cavies and guinea pigs.
  2. There are two species in the genus Hydrochoerus: capybaras and lesser capybaras. Capybaras are also called greater capybaras to distinguish them from their smaller cousins. Capybaras are present in almost all parts of South America (except Chile), from Venezuela to Argentina in the Amazon River Basin. The location of lesser capybara is limited from Panama in Central America to the northern part of Venezuela.
  3. Capybaras are the largest living rodents. They can reach a head and body length of 1.3 m (4 ft. 4 inches) and weigh up to 79 kg (174 lb.). (Source)
  4. The most prominent difference between greater and lesser capybaras is their size. Lesser capybaras are significantly smaller than capybaras. They can grow up to 1 meter (3 inches) and weigh around 28 kg (62 pounds).
  5. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), both capybara species are least concerned. It is due to stable populations in their range and occurrence in several protected areas. However, their populations near some human settlements have decreased or even disappeared due to hunting for their meat and fur. Sometimes, farmers also kill them because capybaras eat fruits, cereals, and pasture grasses.
  6. Capybaras are several times bigger than their close relatives. Despite this, their chances of suffering from cancer are minimal. They do so by adopting a unique technique different from other giant animals, such as elephants and bowhead whales. Their immune system detects and destroys cells capable of becoming cancerous. Scientists hope the genetic signature of this mechanism can also treat cancer in humans. (Source)
  7. Capybaras are also known as “nature’s chairs” as they allow other animals to ride on them freely. Unlike many other large animals that only tolerate small insectivorous birds, these rodents let relatively larger animals sit on them. These include ducksmonkeys, turtles, etc. (Source)
  8. Capybaras can become an invasive species in non-native areas. After their introduction to Florida, some escaped from a wildlife sanctuary in 1995 and increased several times in two decades. Biologists fear they can be a new invasive species due to their similarities to nutria, one of the worst invasive species in the USA. (Source
    A baby nutria on grass
    Capybaras are similar to nutria, one of the worst invasive species

  9. Capybaras have coarse hairs that cover their sweat glands. It is the only rodent with sweat glands on hair surfaces. However, the number of sweat glands is limited, and capybaras use water to cool themselves during hot temperatures.
  10. Capybaras are good swimmers and can remain underwater for up to five minutes. Their partially webbed feet assist in swimming. Additionally, the position of eyes, ears, and nose high on the head enables them to sleep in the water with faces remaining in the air. They commonly enter the water to avoid land predators and heat. The scientific name of capybara is a Greek word meaning “water pig.”
  11. Christians cannot eat the meat of most animals during Lent, 40 days with religious significance. Therefore, the clergy in Venezuela asked the Catholic Church to declare capybaras as fish due to their webbed feet and fishy taste. The Vatican granted this permission in 1784 and allowed consumption of its meat during Lent. (Source)
  12. Front legs in capybaras are slightly shorter than hind legs. There are four toes on each forefoot and three on the hind feet. Unlike other rodents, capybaras cannot hold food in their forefeet. These mammals are good runners on land and can achieve a speed of 35 mph, nearly as fast as a horse.
  13. Capybaras are herbivores and eat grasses, aquatic plants, fruits, and grains. They are selective in their diet during the wet season but eat all available sources during the dry season. Their teeth grow continuously, enabling them to eat tough plant food.
  14. Like some other rodents, capybaras also eat their feces. They do so in the morning, which assists them in completely digesting the hard cellulose and eating beneficial microbes.
  15. Capybaras are one of a few vertebrate animals that cannot synthesize Vitamin C endogenously. Therefore, its deficiency due to an unhealthy diet in captivity can result in weight loss, hair loss, and dermatitis. (Source)
  16. Male and female capybaras have two scent glands, one on the snout (morillo) and the other anal gland. However, the morillo is more prominent in males. They use both these glands to mark objects and other capybaras.
  17. Along with a prominent gland on the snouts of males, another visible difference between the two genders is their size. Female capybaras are slightly bigger than males, and the heaviest-ever female weighed around 91 kg (201 lb.).
  18. Capybaras can live for up to 10 years in the wild, but many only survive for six to seven years. Their maximum lifespan in captivity is 15 years.
  19. The main predators of capybaras are local big cats (jaguars and pumas) and caimans. Young capybaras face threats from additional animals, such as small cats (ocelots), boa constrictors, birds (Mexican eagles and black vultures), and crab-eating foxes.
  20. Capybaras are social animals and usually live in groups of 10 to 20 individuals, known as herds. Their members include a dominant male, multiple subordinate males, females, and young ones. The number of members in these groups can increase by up to 100 individuals in the dry season.
  21. Capybaras breed in the water. Females usually dive deep if they reject an offer by a male. Both the dominant and subordinate males get a chance of mating with females in a group.  
  22. The average litter size in female capybaras is four pups (ranging from three to eight) after a gestation of around 150 days. It is the longest gestation period among rodents. All pups in a group stay together and suckle from any nursing female.
  23. Brazilian spotted fever (BSF), also known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, is the most human-lethal tick-borne disease in the Western hemisphere. Capybaras are major carriers of ticks that cause this lethal disease. (Source)
  24. Argentina built a gated community in Nordelta, a wetland habitat of capybara on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in 1999. These rodents remained hidden for two decades but later reproduced rapidly and spread out by taking advantage of COVID-19 and extraordinary dry weather. It caused severe problems for the wealthy community, and the residents demanded the removal of these mammals. However, many people from Argentina and other parts of the globe favored these animals and called them “class warriors” against the rich. (Source)
  25. Capybaras usually eat at dawn or dusk to avoid predators. They spend other time of the day resting under some cover near water. Their habitats include gallery forests, grasslands, wetlands, marshes, and other areas alongside water.

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