Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)

Male capybara wallowing to cool off

(http://www.arkive.org/capybara/hydrochoerus-hydrochaeris/image-G42937.html)

  • Name: Capybara
  • Latin: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: South America
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years

Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)
  • Order: Rodentia (rodents)
  • Family: Caviidae (cavies)
  • Genus: Hydrochoerus (‘water’ ‘pig’)
  • Species: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (capybara)

Apperance

  • Length: 107-134cm (3.51-4.40ft)
  • Height: 50-64cm (20-25in)
  • Weight: 91kg (200lbs)

Capybaras are stocky rodents with a barrel shaped body and a short head. It has reddish brown fur along its back and yellowish brown fur on its underside. The adults lack under-hair and have slightly webbed feet and vestigial tails which aid in its aquatic lifestyle. They have a blunt muzzle and their facial features (eyes, nostrils and ears) are positioned on the top of its head. They are slightly dimorphic which the females being heavier than the males.

Relatives

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  • Domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) -LEAST CONCERN- 
  • Southern mountain cavy (Microcavia australis) -LEAST CONCERN-
  • Patagonian mara (Dolichotis pantagonum) -NEAR THREATENED-

Habitat & Distribution

Capybaras can be found in dense forest areas near water sources such as streams, ponds, rivers, swamps and lakes.

Capybaras are located in the rainforests of South America and also in Panama, the most southern country of Central America.

Map showing the distribution of the Capybara taxa

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Capybara)

Diet

The digestive system of the capybara is similar to a rabbits, they have a simple stomach with a large caecum used for digesting the large amounts of cellulose they ingest and they also extract two types of faeces. They are selective grazers and eat around 3kg of fresh forage a day. 80% of their diet is only five species of grass. As the wet season advances, more water plants, such as reeds and water hyacinths are consumed. They have also been known to raid cultivated fields for grains, melons, squashes, bananas, sweet potatoes and corn.

Behaviour

Capybaras are social animals, found in groups of between 10 and 30 individuals. They also have been known to form looser groups of up to 100. These groups are controlled by a dominant male who has a prominent scent gland on the end of his nose for smearing his scent on the ground. These rodents communicate using scent and sounds which include purrs, alarm barks, whistles, clicks, squeals and grunts.

During the hottest part of the day, they will wallow in the water to keep cool and will then graze in the evening. They sleep very little and will often nap during the day.

Reproduction

Capybaras reach sexual maturity at 18 months and populations in Brazil only breed when conditions are right while those in Venezuela and Colombia will breed throughout the year. The male will often pursue and mate with a female in the water. The gestation period is 130-150 days but can be between 2 and 8 months.

The female will isolate herself for the birth of her young and will re-join the group after a few hours. The new-borns will join the group as soon as they become mobile. The young can eat grass at a week old and will suckle from any female in the group. The young are weaned at 16 weeks.

Adaptations

  • The capybara has slightly webbed feet which aid the animal in its aquatic lifestyle.
  • The facial features of the capybara (eyes, nostrils and ears) are positioned on the top of its head. This enables the animal to swim completely submerged while being able to see, hear and smell above the surface.
  • The capybara can hold its breath for five minutes; such allow it to submerge itself under the water to escape predators and to graze on the water plants.
  • Like a rabbit, the capybara has a large caecum as part of its digestive system. This allows it to break down the large amounts of cellulose that is included in its diet.

Threats

The capybara has several predators in the South American rainforests including jaguars, pumas, ocelots, caimen, eagles and anacondas (the world’s heaviest snake). They are also hunted for its meat and hide and are affected by habitat loss throughout Central and South America.

Conservation

  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

Populations of capybara occur in a number of protected areas throughout its range, hunting of this animal is also controlled in many areas. They are also far more efficient at digesting plant material than cattle and horses so ranching this species in its natural habitat can provide a viable and more profitable alternative or addition to cattle ranching.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Male
  • Female: Female
  • Young: Pup, Cub
  • Group: Herd, Colony
  • ‘Capybara’ is a term from the native people of South America meaning ‘Master of the Grass’.
  • This animal is nicknamed the ‘Water hog’.
  • The capybara is the world’s largest rodent.
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