About the Capybara
Capybaras are widely known as the world's largest rodent. They're very good swimmers, which is helpful in their Amazon rainforest habitat. Their nostrils have adapted over time to sit high on the snout, enabling them to breathe when swimming under water. Capybaras feed on dense vegetation in the rainforest and have become more active at night due to human activity.
The capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Its body is heavy and barrel-shaped. Its head is short and its skull resembles that of a guinea pig, except that it’s considerably larger and more robust. On the dorsal (upper) side, the fur is reddish brown and yellowish brown on the belly. Occasionally, they have some black on the face, outer limbs and rump. Each of its toes is tipped with a hoof-like claw with webbing connecting the digits. Their external ears and eyes are small and with the nostrils sit high up on the head; as a result, when they’re in water, only their nostrils, eyes and ears are visible. Male capybaras have a distinctive scent gland that they brush against grass to mark their territories. These "morrillos" appear as dark, oval-shaped, hairless bumps on their snouts.
Length up to 130 centimeters (more than 4 feet)
Height 50 centimeters (1.6 feet)
Weight 60 to 170 pounds
Mostly grasses and aquatic plants.
The capybara reaches sexual maturity at 18 months and breeds between April and May. Gestation lasts 149-156 days and usually results in one to eight young. Capybaras mate in the water. A female will usually have one litter per year.
Capybaras are active in the morning and evening and rest during the heat of the day in a shallow burrow. They become increasingly nocturnal in areas populated by humans. They’re social and live in groups of variable sizes. Several groups may come together in the dry season around a watering hole.
The smaller sub-groups are controlled by a dominant male. The dominant male, usually the heaviest, stares down other males in the group, driving them to the outer edges of the group. Subordinate males act as lookouts, giving warning barks when predators approach. Vocal animals, capybaras communicate through purrs, squeals, grunts, barks and whistles.
It’s important that capybaras have a constant source of water available in which to hide from predators. When threatened, they’ll run like a horse, and when a predator is close, the capybara will enter the water.
Densely vegetated areas around ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, marshes and swamps in Central and South America.
Median Life Expectancy:
About 10 years
Jaguars; additional predators may include anacondas and caimans.
- Capybaras are related to guinea pigs.
- They are the largest of all the rodents.
You Can Find This Animal in the Tropical Forest
Since their scientific name comes from the Greek meaning “water hog,” it’s not surprising that capybaras are excellent swimmers and can dive and remain submerged up to five minutes.
Supporting Species Survival
Zoo New England participates in the capybara Species Survival Plan. By sharing research and knowledge, participating institutions work together to establish guidelines that best ensure the health of captive populations, and with success, the survival of otherwise extinct species.