The capybara is a large rodent of the genus Hydrochoerus of which the only other extant member is the lesser
capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius). The capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Close relatives are guinea
pigs and rock cavies, and it is more distantly related to the agouti, chinchillas, and the coypu. Native to
South America, the capybara inhabits savannas and dense forests and lives near bodies of water. It is a
highly social species and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals, but usually lives in groups of
10-20 individuals. The capybara is not a threatened species and is hunted for its meat and hide and also for
a grease from its thick fatty skin which is used in the pharmaceutical trade.
The capybara has a heavy, barrel-shaped body and short head, with reddish-brown fur on the upper part of its
body that turns yellowish-brown underneath. Its sweat glands can be found in the surface of the hairy
portions of its skin, an unusual trait among rodents. The animal lacks under hair, and guard hair differs
little from over hair. Adult capybaras grow to 106 to 134 cm (3.48 to 4.40 ft) in length, stand 50 to 62 cm
(20 to 24 in) tall at the withers, and typically weigh 35 to 66 kg (77 to 146 lb), with an average in the
Venezuelan llanos of 48.9 kg (108 lb). The top recorded weights are 91 kg (201 lb) for a wild female from
Brazil and 73.5 kg (162 lb) for a wild male from Uruguay. The dental formula is 184.108.40.206 . Capybaras have
slightly webbed feet and vestigial tails. Their hind legs are slightly longer than their forelegs; they have
three toes on their rear feet and four toes on their front feet. Their muzzles are blunt, with nostrils,
and the eyes and ears are near the top of their heads. Females are slightly heavier than males.
Diet and predation
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark.
They are very selective feeders and feed on the leaves of one species and disregard other species
surrounding it. They eat a greater variety of plants during the dry season, as fewer plants are available.
While they eat grass during the wet season, they have to switch to more abundant reeds during the dry
season. Plants that capybaras eat during the summer lose their nutritional value in the winter, so are not
consumed at that time. The capybara's jaw hinge is not perpendicular, so they chew food by grinding
back-and-forth rather than side-to-side. Capybaras are autocoprophagous, meaning they eat their own feces
as a source of bacterial gut flora, to help digest the cellulose in the grass that forms their normal diet,
and to extract the maximum protein and vitamins from their food. They may also regurgitate food to masticate
again, similar to cud-chewing by cattle. As is the case with other rodents, the front teeth of capybaras
grow continually to compensate for the constant wear from eating grasses; their cheek teeth also grow
Like its relative the guinea pig, the capybara does not have the capacity to synthesize vitamin C, and
capybaras not supplemented with vitamin C in captivity have been reported to develop gum disease as a sign
They can have a lifespan of 8-10 years, but live less than four years in the wild, as they are "a favourite
food of jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle, and caiman". The capybara is also the preferred prey of the anaconda.
Capybaras are gregarious. While they sometimes live solitarily, they are more commonly found in groups
around 10-20 individuals, with two to four adult males, four to seven adult females, and the remainder
juveniles. Capybara groups can consist of as many as 50 or 100 individuals during the dry season when the
animals gather around available water sources. Males establish social bonds, dominance, or general group
census. They can make dog-like barks when threatened or when females are herding young.
Capybaras have two types of scent glands; a morillo, located on the snout, and anal glands. Both sexes
have these glands, but males have much larger morillos and use their anal glands more frequently. The anal
glands of males are also lined with detachable hairs. A crystalline form of scent secretion is coated on
these hairs and is released when in contact with objects such as plants. These hairs have a longer-lasting
scent mark and are tasted by other capybaras. Capybaras scent-mark by rubbing their morillos on objects, or
by walking over scrub and marking it with their anal glands. Capybaras can spread their scent further by
urinating; however, females usually mark without urinating and scent-mark less frequently than males
overall. Females mark more often during the wet season when they are in estrus. In addition to objects,
males also scent-mark females.
When in estrus, the female's scent changes subtly and nearby males begin pursuit. In addition, a female
alerts males she is in estrus by whistling though her nose. During mating, the female has the advantage
and mating choice. Capybaras mate only in water, and if a female does not want to mate with a certain
male, she either submerges or leaves the water. Dominant males are highly protective of the females, but
they usually cannot prevent some of the subordinates from copulating. The larger the group, the harder it
is for the male to watch all the females. Dominant males secure significantly more matings than each
subordinate, but subordinate males, as a class, are responsible for more matings than each dominant male.
The lifespan of the capybara's sperm is longer than that of other rodents.
Capybara gestation is 130-150 days, and produces a litter of four capybara young on average, but may produce
between one and eight in a single litter. Birth is on land and the female rejoins the group within a few
hours of delivering the newborn capybaras, which join the group as soon as they are mobile. Within a week,
the young can eat grass, but continue to suckle-from any female in the group-until weaned around 16 weeks.
The young form a group within the main group. Alloparenting has been observed in this species. Breeding
peaks between April and May in Venezuela and between October and November in Mato Grosso, Brazil.
Zoológico de Vallarta A. C.
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