Looking like a cross between a beaver and a guinea pig, the capybara has the not very flattering nickname of “water pig” in South America but once you learn a bit more about these rodents of unusual size it’s hard not to find their super-serious faces and sturdy shapes adorable.
The capybara holds the title of the largest rodent in the world. They are usually between 50 to 60 centimeters tall and 106 to 134 centimeters long – as big as a medium-sized dog. They’re heavy too, weighing in between 35 and 66 kilograms. Since they are rodents, like mice and rats, the capybaras’ front teeth keep growing for their whole lives, but the teeth get worn down from all the eating they do. Capybaras are usually friendly but people who have been bitten by them report their teeth as being sharp!
Capybaras are semi-aquatic, which means that while they live on land they spend a lot of time in the water, hanging out near swamps, rivers and ponds. Capybaras are amazing swimmers, with webbed feet that let them move quickly through the water. They can hold their breath for five minutes at a time, and their ears fold back when they’re underwater so they never have to worry about water getting stuck in their ears. The capybara can even sleep underwater, with just its nose above water.
As herbivores, capybaras only eat plants – and they eat lots of them, sometimes more than 3 kilograms a day! They eat grasses and aquatic plants, and capybaras kept as pets have been known to mow lawns for extra snacking.
Capybaras do have some dining habits which may put you off eating for a while. It has a scientific name, called coprophagia, which is a very fancy way of saying they eat their own poop! It helps them to digest food better, but still – yuck!
If you can get past the poop-eating thing, capybaras are social and playful animals. They live in groups of 10 to 20 – sometimes as many as a 100 will gather together. Capybaras are very chatty, they make noise all the time when they’re together, either clicking, whistling or purring. When capybaras want to sound an alarm they bark like dogs.
Capybara are the favourite food of anacondas, one of the largest types of snakes in the world. A lot of creatures find capybaras tasty it seems, including jaguars, eagles, piranha, pumas and ocelots. People sometimes eat capybaras too, in Venezuela it’s traditional before Easter. Fortunately many countries have restrictions about hunting capybaras, and a lot of times they live in protected wetlands areas, so if you’re visiting South America you can still see plenty of capybaras in the wild. Just watch out for the teeth!