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Capybara

Houston, TX

Do you know which is the biggest rodent in the world? It’s the capybara (Hydrochoeris hydrochaeris). It stands at 4.6 feet long and up to two feet high to the shoulders, and it weighs 77-143 lbs. They’re as big as a large dog. There are two kinds of capybara: the greater capybara (Hydrochoeris hydrochaeris) and the lesser capybara (Hydrochoeris isthmius). Its scientific name comes from Hydro Chearis which means “water hog” in Greek.  A special tribe in the Amazon also calls the capybara Kapiyva, which means “master of the grasses.” 


capybara, capybara pups, rodent, world's largest rodent
An image of a capybara.

This blog is about the greater capybara. It was originally thought to be related to a pig, but scientists later learned that the capybara is more distinctly related to chinchillas and agouti. It evolved 80 million years ago in Africa, and made its journey to South America 40 million years later. The first person to describe it was German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix in 1824. It is native to South America, and can be found in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. However, it has been hunted to extinction in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The last known capybara was found in the Colombian Amazon in 1917. 


The capybara has dry skin, long, brittle, shaggy brown hair, a face that resembles a beaver’s, no tail, and slightly webbed feet. It's built like a barrel on legs. The capybara has brittle fur that dries quickly. The capybara also has some traits like a hippo’s; it has its eyes, ears, and nose on the top of its head. This way, the capybara can stay inside water while observing its surroundings. It can use its somewhat webbed feet to walk as well as swim. The capybara has four toes on each front foot and three toes on the back foot. Capybaras are semi aquatic, and they live around lakes, swamps, rivers, and estuaries. They can hold their breath for five minutes underwater. They are also swift on land and can run at speeds up to 35 kph (about 22 mph). 


The capybara’s teeth, just like all rodent teeth, will grow throughout its life. The capybara is a very picky eater. It eats selective grasses, grains, squash, aquatic plants, and melons. The capybara eats its own feces; this behavior is called auto coprophagous. The feces help the capybara digest cellulose in plants quicker. 


Capybaras are generally quiet, however, they make some sounds for a variety of reasons, usually to communicate. Their most common sounds are purrs, barks, whistles, or clicks. Purring sounds indicate the capybara is happy, barks and whistles indicate alarm or warning signals, and clicking sounds are used between a mother and her pup(s). Listen to capybara sounds here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAmiHsI9WX0 


a bird feeding on a capybara
The capybara, nature's ottoman.

Capybaras are very social. They live in groups of up to 40 members. Their groups are usually made up with one dominant male, one or more young females, and a few subordinate males. They live in groups because they are eaten by the biggest predators in the jungle, such as jaguars, caimans, ocelots, and pumas (cougars). Youngsters are more vulnerable as they make a favorite snack to snakes, like the green anaconda, crab eating foxes, small cats, and birds of prey like the caracara and the black vulture. Capybaras have been known to offer rides to birds, monkeys, and rabbits. Because of this, the capybara has the nickname, “the moving chairs” or “nature’s ottoman.” Some birds take advantage of this behavior and eat the bugs on the capybara’s fur, which gets rid of the capybara’s bugs while feeding the birds. 


The capybara breeds throughout the year, depending on its habitat and the availability of males. Their gestation period lasts about 120 days (three months). The female capybara can have 1-7 pups. They weigh 2-3 pounds at birth and are equipped with teeth. They are weaned at 16 weeks, and they weigh 88 pounds at 18 weeks. Once they are a year old, they leave the group to find a new one. Females become sexually mature at 7-12 months and the males become sexually mature at 15-24 months. 


Capybara dressed up
The capybara as a pet.

Capybaras can also be kept as pets, but before you go hunting for a capybara to keep, be sure to read about the rules in your state. In the US, it is illegal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and Washington D.C to keep them as a pet. You may also need to obtain a permit, based on your area. A capybara as a pet is very hard to keep. They need a lot of food, space, and a pond or a type of water source. They are very social animals, so they need more than one capybara to stay happy. Even though they are super hard to keep, they make an excellent pet companion. They can even bond with other animals, like dogs. People even dress up capybaras and post them on social media, and the capybara doesn't mind one bit and looks super cute!


The capybara is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, an index which classifies species based on their risk of extinction, but habitat loss, deforestation, and illegal poaching may affect this status. Capybaras are also hunted for meat, belts, and leather, and are killed by humans who see them as competition to their livestock. We must do all we can to keep its status at Least Concern so it can continue to amaze us forever. 


Special thanks to my friend Amy for inspiring me on this blog :)


Still thinking about exotic pets? Learn more from steme.org

References:


Glossary:

brittle - hard, but easy to break.

barrel - cylindrical container that bulges out in the middle.

variety - a lot of something

gestation - a period where a baby is developing.

weaned - when a baby gets accustomed to other food than its mother’s milk. 









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Excellent article to know about the unique creature!.

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