Range & Habitat
Panama to Rio de la Plata, and up the Amazon as far as Bolivia and Peru. They live in large groups near streams, ponds and rivers where they like to sun bathe.
The capybara is the largest living rodent and the only known member of the Hydrochaeridae. Its name means water pig and it is a semi-aquatic animal. Its body is massive and squat and has a short muzzle and a huge mouth with a cleft in the upper lip. The small nose, eyes and ears are aligned on the top of the head so it can protect itself by hiding most of its body under water. There is a large bump in the middle of the top of the nose, which is thought to be a scent gland. Males have a larger scent gland than females. Capybaras have hardly any tail. Their legs are short and their feet are slightly webbed, making them excellent swimmers. Capybara hair is sparse and colors range from brown to light reddish-yellow.
Capybaras adapt easily to life in captivity. They are friendly and quite vocal for rodents, emitting a range of clicks, squeals and grunts. Their natural enemies include the puma, jaguar and anaconda. When in trouble they dive into the water. For further protection from their enemies, they defecate and mate in the water. They sleep in the day and are active at night and in the morning. A hierarchy of dominancy is kept through fierce fighting. The capybara is sometimes farmed for meat in South America.
Reproduction & Growth
Capybaras can breed anytime during the year. In the wild, the female only produces one litter a year. Litter size is usually five but can range from one to eight. The mother has five pairs of nipples. The gestation period is 104-111 days. The young nurse for 16 weeks. They are precocious young and have the ability to follow their mother around and eat plants from the day of birth. Sexual maturity and adult size is acquired at 15 months. As adults, they reach a height at shoulder of 21 inches, are four feet long and weigh about 100 pounds. Their life expectancy is 8-10 years in the wild, 12 in captivity.
In the Wild: Land and water grasses, fruit, bark of saplings and shrubs. They can be a pest in cultivated areas by eating squash, melons, corn, rice and sugar cane. In the Zoo: Apples, carrots, bananas, corn, yams, oranges, peanuts, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach and rodent biscuits.