Height: 20 - 24 inches
Length: 42 - 53 inches
Weight: 77 - 145 lbs
Gestation: 120 - 150 days
Offspring: 2 - 8
Life Span: 10 - 12 years
Also Called: water pig or Chiwiri
The capybara is the largest member of the rodent family. It looks a lot like a very large guinea pig. Its thin fur is brown or reddish brown in color, and short in length. It has small rounded ears and tiny black eyes that are located at the top of its head, and it has no tail. Its legs are short, with 4 toes on the front feet and 3 toes on the hind feet. The feet are webbed slightly, which helps the capybara to swim and dive underwater better. Usually when it swims just the top of the head, ears, eyes, and nose are visible.
Capybaras are herbivores. This means that they eat plants. Their favorite foods are water plants, grasses, bark from trees, grains, and sometimes fruit.
The capybara lives in the dense forests near fresh water lakes, streams, and marshes in Central and South America.
Capybaras protect themselves from predators by diving into the nearest body of water and hiding. Their enemies include large snakes such as the anaconda, jaguars, ocelots, pumas, the harpy eagle, and humans, who will eat them if they can catch them, and use their hides to make leather.
Capybaras are very social creatures and live together in family groups of 10 to as many as 100. The average group has 20 capybaras, with one male that acts as the group leader. They are usually most active at dawn or dusk. However in areas where people disturb them more often, the capybaras are more nocturnal or active at night, for safety. They spend a lot of time wallowing in the mud where itís cooler in the heat of the day. They also are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for a few minutes at a time. They are able to seal off their noses and ears, which allows them to stay submerged longer. In fact when threatened or in danger they will hide in the water to stay out of reach of their enemies. When not wallowing in the mud or swimming or search of food, the capybaras like to just lie in the sun and rest.
The capybara usually mates in the spring and fall, although mating may take place at other times of the year also. Most females have one litter of 2-8 babies per year. The babies weigh about 2-3 pounds at birth. They are born with hair and are able to see, and can follow their mother around almost immediately after being born. They also are able to eat plants right away, but will still nurse from their mother until they are weaned at 16 weeks of age. All of the groupís females help the mother capybara to care for her babies. The young ones mature at 15 months or so, and are then able to have young ones of their own. They can live up to 10 years in the wild, or 12 years in captivity.
Of all their senses, the capybaraís sense of smell and hearing are best. They use glandular scents to communicate among one another, which makes a good sense of smell important. They also use various clicks, barks, squeals, whistles, and grunts to communicate with others in their group.