The capybara has a heavy, barrel-shaped body and a short head with reddish-brown fur on the upper part of its body that turns yellowish-brown underneath. Capybaras have slightly webbed feet and vestigial tails. Their hind legs are slightly longer than their forelegs, with three toes on their hind feet and four on their front. Their muzzles are blunt, with nostrils, and the eyes and ears are near the top of their heads. Females are slightly heavier than males.
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. They are very selective feeders and will feed on the leaves of one species and disregard others completely. The capybaras jaw hinge is not perpendicular, so they chew their feed by grinding back and forth rather than side to side. The species is coprophagous, meaning they eat their own feces as a source of bacterial gut flora which helps them digest the cellulose in the grass they eat and extract the maximum protein and vitamins from their food. They may also regurgitate their food to masticate again.
Habitat / Distribution
Capybaras are semi-aquatic mammals, found throughout almost all countries in South America (except Chile) in densely forested areas near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds, and marshes as well as flooded savannah and along rivers in tropical forests.
Reproduction / Social System
Capybaras are very gregarious. They do occasionally live solitarily, but are most commonly found in groups that average 10-20 individuals with 2-4 adult males, 4-7 adult females, and the rest juveniles. Capybara groups can consist of as many as 50 or 100 individuals during dry seasons when they gather around water sources. Males are organized in stable, linear hierarchies. The dominant male will be significantly heavier than the others, but among subordinates, status is not correlated with weight. The dominant males have access to the best resources. Capybaras are very vocal, and when in groups, they chatter with each other to establish social bonds, dominance, or general group census. They can mark dog-like barks when threatened or when females are herding young. Capybaras have two different scent glands, a morillo (on the snout) and an anal gland. Females have the advantage in mating. Capybaras mate exclusively in the water, and a female will leave or submerge if she doesnít want to mate with a particular male. Gestation is 130-150 days, and usually produces a litter of four babies, but potentially 1-8. Within a week, the young can eat grass but arenít fully weaned until about 16 weeks.
Range & Population
They roam in home ranges of about 25 acres in high density populations.
Capybaras are not considered a threatened species, and their population is stable throughout most of their range, though hunting has reduced their numbers in some areas. They are hunted for their meat and pelts, but are otherwise killed by humans who see their grazing as competition for livestock. In some areas, they are farmed which has the effect of ensuring the wetland habitats are protected. Their survival is aided by their ability to breed rapidly.
Adult capybaras grow to 3.5-4.4 feet in length and stand 20-25 inches tall. They typically weigh 77-146 pounds.
Live up to 12 years in captivity.