By Eleanor Warren-Thomas
Photo by Rhettt A. Butler
Scientific Name: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
Capybara live across South America, from Colombia in the north to Argentina in the south, and from Peru in the east to Brazil in the west. You can see a map of where they live here: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=10300
Capybara are semi-aquatic so you can find them on riverbanks, in marshes, reedbeds and in estuaries. They also live happily on cattle ranches. However, you'll never find a capybara far from water.
Capybara are really sociable. They live in huge family groups, usually of 10-20 animals, but sometimes up to 100 can be found together! As you might expect from sociable animals, capybara like to make a lot of noise... they tend to chatter to each other when in groups, and also make a barking sound like a dog when they are scared, or when they are rounding up their babies. They also communicate through smell, using special scent glands on their bottoms and on the males' noses (which you might be able to see in this picture). They use these scent glands to mark their territories, and each capybara probably has its own individual smell that they can use to recognize each other. Capybara are herbivores, meaning they eat the leaves of grasses and other plants, although they sometimes eat fruits too if they can find them. They are fussy eaters though, and are known to only eat certain plants and ignore ones they don't like. They can be active during the day or the night, depending on how safe they feel. In areas where capybara are hunted by people, they tend to be active at night to avoid being spotted.
Capybara are listed as of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List, which is a record of animals and birds that might be endangered. This is because they live across a wide range, there are lots of them, and they don't seem to be declining fast which is good news. However, we must be careful that this doesn't change, and that they don't become endangered.
The capybara is the biggest rodent in the world! So, the capybara is related to mice, rats and hamsters… but it grows up to 4.5 feet long and 25 inches high! Its closest relations are other big rodents like agouti, chinchilla and guinea pigs.
Capybara make a tasty treat for predators, like the jaguar, puma, ocelot and even the huge anaconda. This means that although they can live for 8-10 years, lots of them only make to four or five years old before they are eaten...
They are specially adapted to living in the water, having webbed feet to help them to swim, and dense fur. They can stay underwater and hold their breath for up to five minutes, which is useful when trying to escape from predators! They have their nostrils high up on their noses, so they can stay in the water and still breathe easily, which means that on very hot days they can keep cool by staying in the water.
Capybara usually have about four babies at once, but they can have up to eight! In the picture above you can see an adult capybara looking after lots of babies - this is because the adults sometimes take turns to look after groups of little ones, a bit like a capybara nursery. This means that the other adults have time to eat while the babies are looked after. Only a week after they are born, baby capybara can eat grass although they continue to drink milk for a while too.
People do hunt capybara for their meat and skin, and sometimes by cattle farmers who don't want them eating the grass that their cows eat. They are also kept as pets in some places. However, they aren't endangered in the wild, and breed quickly. Some people even farm them! Escaped capybaras from farms and zoos have been found living in the wild in lots of places outside of South America, and it is thought that some might even be breeding in Florida, USA....
Mongabay.com has got loads of great pictures of capybara below and you can also see different pictures and videos here: http://www.arkive.org/capybara/hydrochoerus-hydrochaeris/.
Pictures of Capybara
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