Capybara Facts

Tadashi

Tadashi

Published: 17 Sep 2021

Modified: 05 Nov 2021

Close up of a Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) and two babies in a lake, capybara facts

You won’t find any animal as calm and cool as the capybara. They’re so calm, that you can just walk into a group of capybaras without them panicking as other animals would. They’d look at you, sniff, and maybe nuzzle at you, but then they’d just go back to their own business. Learn more about these wonderful animals with these 40 capybara facts.

  1. Capybaras go around in groups of usually 10 to 20 animals.
  2. Some groups can number as many as 100 capybaras, though.
  3. Capybaras typically grow up to 134 cm long.
  4. They typically weigh on average around 56 kg.
  5. Capybaras don’t usually grow any heavier than 66 kg.
  1. Capybaras today live all over South America.
  2. Chile, however, remains the only South American country with no capybaras living in it.
  3. The Andes Mountains prevent capybaras from migrating into Chile.
  4. Capybaras once lived in Florida during the Pleistocene Epoch.
  5. They also once lived on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean Sea.
  6. Escaped capybaras have formed a wild breeding population on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean Sea.
  7. Other escaped animals have been reintroduced to Florida, but scientists remain unsure if they have a viable population there.
  8. Escaped capybaras have also established a presence in California.
  9. Capybaras can live up to 10 years in captivity.
  10. In the wild, though, their natural predators reduce a capybara’s average lifespan to only around four years.
  1. Capybaras count guinea pigs and rock cavies as their closest relatives.
  2. Other relatives of theirs include the agouti, the chinchilla, and the coypu.
  3. Whether or not it’s legal to own capybaras as pets varies from state to state in the USA.
  4. Uruguay’s 2-peso coin features an image of a capybara.
  5. The capybara has the distinction of the largest rodent in the world.
Table of Contents

Capybaras have many names

Just the name capybara alone has many variations across the countries of South America. In Brazil, it goes as capivara, in Bolivia as capiguara, and chiguire or chiguiro in Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay all call the animal carpincho, while Peru calls them ronsoco. In Venezuela, the animal also goes by the local name of fercho.

Science also has variations of the name, with Carl Linnaeus originally giving it the name of Sus hydrochaeris. Modern science, though, knows the animal as the Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris. Both come from Ancient Greek, and both mean water pig, a common nickname for the animal in English-speaking countries. The name capybara comes from the indigenous Tupi language, specifically, the word ka’apiûara, literally meaning grass-eater.

They have a distinctive appearance

Capybaras have small heads, which contrast with their large, heavy, and barrel-shaped bodies. They also have slightly webbed feet, along with small, almost nonexistent tails. Their hind legs also grow longer than their forelegs, with their hind feet having three toes each, in contrast to the four toes of each of their forefeet.

Capybaras have blunt muzzles, while their eyes and ears both rest to the top of their heads. Fur covers their bodies, with the color varying depending on its location. The fur on a capybara’s upper body has a red-brown color, which shifts to yellow-brown over their lower body. Females also tend to grow bigger than males do.

animal, capybara facts
Image from: Pixabay

Capybaras also have multiple scent glands

They have one on their snouts, which scientists call the morillo and more glands near their anus. Males tend to have bigger morillos than females do. They also use their anal glands more frequently. The hairs around their anal glands also tend to get encrusted with crystallizations of their scent which the males use to mark plantlife. Scent markings left behind this way tend to last longer before fading.

Capybaras can also nuzzle their morillos or rub their anal glands against objects to mark them with their scent. They also sometimes use urine to mark their territories, but only males do this. However, females tend to mark more frequently than males during the mating season. Talk about smelly capybara facts.

They also have their unique mating behavior

A female’s scent changes when mating season begins. Males can pick up this change, which tells them that mating season has begun. Females also verbally signal males their readiness to mate by whistling through their noses. Capybaras mate in water, with a female submerging herself as an invitation. However, if a male she doesn’t like tries to join her in the water, she will leave as a form of rejection.

Dominant males in a group of capybaras tend to get more mates than subordinate males, but that doesn’t stop them from mating. Only female capybaras can choose when and who they want to mate with.

They can live in various habitats

Scientists consider them semi-aquatic mammals, as shown when we mentioned earlier how they only mated in water. Capybaras thrive in various ground habitats, such as woodland, tropical rainforest, and even savannahs. However, they also make sure to live near large bodies of water, such as lakes, marshes, ponds, rivers, and even swamps. They swim very well, and can even hold their breath underwater for up to 5 minutes, which makes up their primary defense against predators. Most predators typically won’t wait for a capybara to surface and instead leave to find easier prey. Others, though, will try to scare or otherwise provoke a capybara into leaving the water where the predator can finally get at them.

Capybara Facts, Capybaras Swimming
Photo by Bob Johnson from Wikipedia

Their daily routine can also vary depending on the situation

Most of the time, capybaras will spend the day submerged in mud to stay cool, with only their noses poking out so they can breathe. As the temperature drops in the afternoon, they get out of the mud and start grazing until the evening. Afterward, they take a nap which lasts until around midnight and then wake up to resume grazing until sunrise. They then return to the mud to restart their daily routine.

However, scientists have observed capybaras varying this routine in response to their circumstances, usually due to the arrival of predators. When they can’t hide underwater, the capybaras will hide in mud, which doesn’t just hide them but conceals their scent as well. Capybaras can spend a whole day hiding in the mud, only coming out when they’re sure the predator’s gone.

Capybaras can get picky when it comes to food

They usually feed on grass and aquatic plants, along with fruits and even bark stripped from trees. That said, capybaras develop personal tastes when it comes to their food, leading to them picking out plants they like. Scientists have even observed them stripping a plant of its leaves, before leaving surrounding ones alone simply out of preference.

Capybaras also tend to eat different kinds of plants during the dry season than in the wet season. For example, capybaras stop eating grass during the dry season and feed on reeds instead. They also tend to eat a more diverse diet during the dry season than in the wet season.

They also eat their feces

Here’s a shocking example of capybara facts. Scientists call this an autocophragous behavior, which evolved as a response to the body’s difficulty in digesting vegetable matter. As poop has already gone through digestion once, it becomes easier to digest a second time. This allows a capybara to get more nutrients from their meals, while also reclaiming water lost with the droppings. This goes hand in hand with their ability to bring up their stomach contents without actually vomiting it out. They can then chew the partly-digested food some more, which further helps digestion. This ability isn’t unique to them, though, with cows and other cattle having the same ability and behavior.

Their teeth never stop growing

Again, they evolved this ability in response to the difficulty of digesting vegetable matter. It’s harder on teeth to break up vegetable matter compared to meat, increasing the rate teeth get worn down or even break. This gets even worse as capybaras chew by grinding their teeth back and forth, instead of moving them side to side. As a result, they never lose the ability to grow new teeth, as then they’d starve to death once their teeth wear away.

They can’t produce their own Vitamin C

More accurately, their bodies can’t process the proteins and chemicals into Vitamin C the way most animals do. To get Vitamin C, they need to eat food that already has preexisting Vitamin C in it, such as fruits. This also means that capybaras in zoos need to have Vitamin C supplements added to their food. Cases exist where zookeepers forget to do so, leading the animals to develop scurvy from lack of Vitamin C. They share this trait with their close cousin, the guinea pig. 

They share a unique kind of cell, the Kurloff Cell, with their relatives

The Kurloff Cell is a special kind of cell found in the blood and organs of the capybara. Females tend to have more of these than males, which increases during pregnancy. Their complete function remains unknown to this day, but scientists have discovered they generally work as white blood cells. They also know that Kurloff Cells reduce the chances of an autoimmune disorder targeting a fetus’ cells. This explains why Kurloff Cells tend to grow more numerous during pregnancy.

Capybara Facts, Kurloff Cell
Photo by Paolaci from Wikipedia

Capybaras also have a subspecies of their own, the lesser capybara

They also have their scientific name, Hydrochoerus Isthmius, referencing their homeland in Panama. They also live in the neighboring countries of Colombia and Venezuela. Their common name, in turn, references their smaller size compared to regular capybaras, with lesser capybaras only growing to a weight of only 28 kg. Lesser capybaras also find themselves threatened by human activity. The development of the forests and swamps they live in, for example, threatens their future. That said, international organizations have only classed them as data-deficient. This means there’s not enough data to make a proper decision for their conservation status.

Capybaras make up the most sociable animals in the world

It’s more than the fact that they live in large groups, which as we mentioned earlier, can include up to 100 animals. There’s also the fact that capybaras have a friendly and even welcoming attitude to any animal that doesn’t prey on them. Many cases exist of capybaras adopting orphaned or abandoned animals into their groups. The friendliness of capybaras extends to the point they don’t mind other animals using them almost like furniture.

Specifically, it’s a common sight for capybaras to walk around with other animals sitting or resting on their backs. Birds, most commonly, but also rabbits and even monkeys, both in the wild and in captivity. Pet capybaras take this even further, letting cats and dogs sit or lie down on their backs without protest. Similarly, capybaras don’t mind humans, and will happily let humans pet and touch them.

They also make for quite vocal animals

Capybaras make a wide variety of sounds to communicate with each other. These include barking, cackling, grunting, purring, squealing, and even whining sounds. They might even chatter their teeth together as a form of communication. The meanings vary with the sounds, such as warnings about a predator, danger to their young, or even just about the weather. More than that, scientists have noticed that each group of capybaras have their unique sound frequencies from each other. Scientists think this allows capybaras to keep their group identities distinct from each other.

They have many predators

The green anaconda, in particular, counts the capybara as its main food source. Other animals which prey on the capybara include caimans, eagles, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots, among others. A sad, but true example of capybara facts.

predator, Green Anaconda
Photo by Dave Londsdale from Wikipedia

Humans have many uses for capybaras

In particular, we make up the most successful predators of the capybara. For starters, indigenous groups commonly hunt the animal for its meat and fur. Capybara meat and fur also have high demand in mainstream society, commonly provided by farmed capybaras. Farmers also kill wild capybaras, to remove competition for grazing against their cattle. The development of wildland in South America also poses a threat to capybaras, though, environmental protection measures have reduced this threat up to a point.

They can, however, spread diseases to people

Like we said earlier, capybaras don’t mind people, and are welcome getting petted by them. That said, scientists discourage doing so to wild capybaras, as they serve as carriers of various bacteria. Some of the bacteria they carry include ones that cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. The capybaras themselves can’t spread the disease to people, but the ticks that live in their fur can. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, in particular, can prove especially deadly to children, who find capybaras irresistible. A grim, but true, example of capybara facts.

Capybaras have a history with the Roman Catholic Church

This goes back to the 18th century, over the practice of fasting and abstinence during the Lenten season. A controversy erupted whether or not the prohibition against eating meat extends to capybaras. As an animal native to the Americas, the capybara wasn’t known to the church when the tradition first began. The controversy became settled when the Pope decreed in 1784 that capybaras weren’t covered by the prohibition. This led to a tradition that continues to this day, with capybaras becoming the main source of protein during Lent. Talk about historic capybara facts.

They enjoy great popularity in Japan

This goes back to 1982 when the Izu Shaboten Zoo first opened. This opening introduced the capybara to Japan and what’s better is that their enclosure included a hot spring. The capybaras love hot springs. Together with their friendly attitude, as well as charming appearance, their relaxed enjoyment of their habitat immediately made them beloved by the Japanese people. It also started a trend in other Japanese zoos, which not only introduced capybaras of their own but also gave them hot springs like the ones at Izu Shaboten. 

animal, mother, litter, pups
Photo by Clodomiro Esteves Junior from Wikipedia

Capybaras don’t count as an endangered species

Despite all the threats to their habitats, as well as capybaras getting hunted by indigenous peoples and rural communities, capybaras have a Least Concern designation when it comes to the conservation of their species. This comes from the fact that like all rodents, they reproduce quickly and in large numbers. While they only mate once a year, capybara females can have litters of up to eight pups at a time. The pregnancy also passes quickly, usually around five months. Together with the fact that people farm capybaras, the species stands at no risk of extinction today.