Capybara: The World’s Biggest Rodent

Imagine a 200 pound guinea pig!

credit: Eric Kilby

The capybara is the largest rodent in the world, growing up to 4 ft in length and up to 2 feet tall. Their average weight is 108 but one female in Brazil weighed in at a whopping 201 pounds!

A close relative of the guinea pig, capybaras live on savannas or in the dense forests of South America. They are capable of running as fast as a small horse, but they are also excellent swimmers, and can remain completely submerged for up to five minutes. They can even sleep in the water, keeping only their noses out in the air.

Credit: Charlesjsharp

Capybaras eat grass, aquatic plants, fruit, and tree bark. They are very social, and commonly found in groups of 10–20. As many as 50 or 100 individuals might gather near water sources during the dry season. When raised in captivity, they will befriend any other animals around, including dogs, cats, rabbits or birds.

Credit: Charlesjsharp

By one week of age, the babies can eat grass, but they will continue to suckle from any female in their group for four months. All of the adults help with the little ones, who form a smaller group within the main group. The females make dog-like barks when they are herding the young.

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The capybara has adapted well to urbanization, and they can be found in many zoos and parks. They have gentle natures, and will usually allow humans to pet them. Although it is illegal in some states, capybaras are occasionally kept as pets in the United States. Physical contact with wild Capies is discouraged as their ticks might carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Credit: Martin Faulks

In some areas, capybaras are farmed, and they are also hunted for their meat and pelts.   In Venezuela, capybara meat is popular during Lent and Holy week, as the Catholic Church previously gave a special dispensation that allows for it to be eaten when other meats are forbidden.

Although prey for jaguars, pumas, ocelots, eagles, caimans, and anacondas, capybaras are not a threatened species.

Their scientific name (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), comes from the Greek ὕδωρ (hydor = water) + χοίρος (choiros = pig, hog).

Wouldn’t you like to give one of these big, sweet, water piggies a hug ?

A capybara enjoys the company of some guinea pigs.