The Capybara has a round barrel like body covered in fur colours ranging from a reddy brown to greys and some small amounts of black on the face. These hairs are long and coarse which allows them to stay dry when not in the water. The average weight of a capybara is 48.9kg(108 lb). Their head and body length is around 106c, to 134cm(42 to 53 in). From floor to shoulder the capybara measures on average 60.9cm or 2ft.
The capybara enjoys spending much of its day in the water and has developed many adaptations their eyes and ears are small and set high on their head. This allows them to stay alert with only a small amount of their head showing. They have slightly webbed toes and can breathe under water for several minutes.
Capybaras live for between 7 and 10 years on average. One individual at the Adelaide Zoo though reached 15 years of age.
Capybaras are classed as herbivores. Their main diet consists of grasses and aquatic plants. They also eat tree barks and fruits such as melons, squashes and sweet potatoes which they have been known to steal from farms. The capybara has very selective feeding habits. They use just 5 grasses for 80% of their diet. They will reduce or increase the range of plants they will accept depending on the availability. The capybara prefers to forage in the late afternoon and in the evening.
Capybaras will eat their own faeces to extract the maximum proteins and vitamins from these foods. This also produces gut flora which assists in digesting the cellulose found in their diet.
The capybara can be found from tropical forests to open plains. They always live near a large body of water and in a forested area near to a plain for when aquatic grasses are not as abundant due to water levels. The capybara can be found ranging through almost all countries of South America apart from Chile.
The capybara comes onto heat once every 7-8 days. When they do though they are only open to mating for 8 hours. Normally one litter, of on average 4 babies, is produced each year. The female emits a whistle when on heat and the dominant male will sniff her frequently when this occurs. The pair mate in the water and the female has been known to dive under if she chooses not to mate. The breeding couples are regularly interrupted by a second male. The rest of the group is essential to raising the young with groups of less than four know to not raise young. The babies are born after a 150 day gestation. Females become sexually mature at about 7 to 12 months of age. Males will generally reach maturity around 15 to 24 months of age.
The capybara rests, during the heat of the day, in mud or in water. They then graze throughout the evening and afternoon. Due to humans coming into their habitat capybaras are becoming a more nocturnal species. They will congregate in groups of 40 to 100 which fluctuate in size with the wet and dry seasons. The average group will use from 2 up to 20 hectares of land but some have been known to use areas of 200 hectares in size. The capybaras defend their territories and both species scent mark. Young will play in groups and imitate the group’s males. The capybara has a range of vocalisations which it uses to communicate with others in the group. The capybara is preyed upon by pumas and jaguars. Juveniles may also be preyed upon by foxes, ocelots, anacondas, raptors and the caiman. Some bird species have symbiotic relationships with the capybara. They may sit on them or fly near them to eat insects which jump out of the way when the capybara moves along and they also have been seen eating ticks off the capybara.
The capybara is the world’s largest rodent.
Capybaras are occasionally kept as pets in the United States.