All About The Capybara: The Friendly Rodent

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 11th November 2023

Scientific nameHydrochoerus hydrochaerisWeight35 to 66 kg (77.2 to 145.5 lb)
Pronunciationkap-ee-bar-uhLength106 to 134 cm (41.7 to 52.8 inches)
ClassificationMammalia, Rodentia, & CaviidaeLocationSouth America

The Capybara

Gage Beasley's Capybara Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Capybara Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, there’s no doubt you’re already acquainted with the famous capybara!

They’re renowned for being the world’s largest yet friendliest rodents!

Photographers have been long fascinated by these adorable creatures, and you can easily stumble upon photos of capybaras just chilling in water or serving as a resting place for other animals!

Although capybaras are native to South America, many live in zoos nowadays or are even kept as pets.

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Besides having a docile character, they’re known for having unique adaptations that help them survive in the wild.

Luckily, we’ve gathered the most interesting facts about capybaras and are now sharing them with you! You’ll even learn how capybaras became famous in meme culture!

Taxonomy and Classification

Two capybaras chilling near the water | Gerald Corsi via Getty Images

Capybaras are scientifically called Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, so they’re part of the Hydrochoerus genus in the Caviidae family of rodents, which includes wild cavies and domestic guinea pigs.

Studies show that the members of the Hydrochoerus genus are most closely related to rock cavies in the Kerodon genus, which is why both genera are now classified under Hydrochoerinae, alongside other extinct rodents. 

The members of these two groups seem to have diverged approximately 12 million years ago.

Besides the capybara, which is also known as the greater capybara, the Hydrochoerus genus consists of four other species – the living lesser capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius) and three extinct species.

The other extant capybara species has a more limited range than the greater capybara, as it’s found only in eastern Panama. 

The extinct species were found in Argentina, the Caribbean island of Grenada, and California.

Physical Characteristics

The world’s largest rodent, the Capybara | JohannesCompaan via Getty Images

Capybaras are the world’s largest living rodents! Their body length is roughly 106–134 centimeters (41.7–52.8 inches), and the height at the withers is 50–62 centimeters (20–24.4 inches). 

The average weight is approximately 48.9 kilograms (108 pounds), but some capybaras can grow as heavy as 73–81 kilograms (161–179 pounds)! 

Imagine a rodent as large and heavy as a dog or even a human being!

Here are some key characteristics that can help you distinguish a capybara from other rodents (besides its obvious size!):

  • It has a barrel-shaped body.
  • The head is broad, the ears are short and rounded, and the snout is large.
  • The nostrils are small and located on the top of the head, alongside the eyes and ears.
  • The short limbs are equipped with partially webbed feet. The forelimbs are slightly shorter than the hind limbs.
  • The forelimbs have four fingers, while the hindlimbs have only three toes. 
  • The tail is vestigial, or, in easy terms, the capybara has no tail!

The fur of capybaras is typically dark brown to reddish on top and becomes light brown to light yellow on the undersides. 

The hairs are quite long, measuring between 30 and 120 millimeters (1.2–4.7 inches).

Habitat and Distribution

Capybaras live in South American tropical and subtropical regions. They’re found in dense forests and savannas. 

These rodents are semi-aquatic, so they are always close to water sources like rivers, ponds, lakes, and marshes. 

They also spend much time in the dense vegetation surrounding these bodies of water.

However, considering the fast urbanization, capybaras have adapted to living increasingly closer to cities, so they’re now often spotted in parks and close to human establishments, especially cattle ranches, which make for excellent habitats considering that they have no predators and enough water during the dry season.

Capybaras close to the city | Capuski via Getty Images

Greater capybaras are native to South America. Their range extends from Venezuela to Argentina, with more populations in the eastern part of the continent. 

The highest number of capybaras has been recorded in the Colombian and Venezuelan llanos, as well as Brazil.

Many capybara individuals are kept in zoos, even outside South America. They’re found in zoos in Japan, the United States, Australia, England, New Zealand, and other countries. 

In some parts of the world, capybaras are kept as pets.

Behavior and Social Structure

Close-up of capybaras in the water | Zocha_K via Getty Images

Capybaras are semi-aquatic creatures that live close to water sources. 

Thanks to their partially webbed feet and their hippopotamus-like arrangement of the ears, eyes, and nostrils, capybaras are excellent swimmers and can stay submerged for approximately five minutes! 

They’re even known to sleep in water, as long as they keep their noses out!

Although semi-aquatic, capybaras do just as well on land, where they forage for food.

Here’s what a daily capybara routine looks like:

In the morning, capybaras lay in the dense vegetation near a water source, resting and having the time of their lives! 

At midday, when the temperature is at its highest, they stay in shallow water or wallow in mud holes.

Capybara peeking through the shallow waters | Zocha_K via Getty Images

As the temperatures go down, meaning during the late afternoon, they start moving around, grazing, and interacting with each other. 

At midnight, they take a break and get some more rest. Afterward, capybaras go on grazing for a few more hours until sunrise.

Capybaras are highly social creatures, so they probably never get bored! 

They’re known to live in groups of 10-20 individuals but can sometimes be spotted alongside many other capybaras, up to 100!

Such a sight is more common during the dry season when all gather at an available water source. 

Studies show that the size of their groups varies depending on their geographical distribution.

Their groups typically consist of 2–4 males and 4–7 females, all adults. The others are juveniles.

Family of capybara | Lorenasam via Getty Images

One of the males is dominant and often bullies its subordinate males to leave the herd.

The members of the group can recognize themselves through their olfactory fingerprint, which is left by the scent glands. 

Capybaras have two scent glands – one (the morrilo) is located on the snout and is larger in males; the second is the anal glands.

To leave their olfactory fingerprint, capybaras rub their morrillos on what they want to mark. If they use their anal glands, they do so while walking. 

Urinating can also be helpful to mark territories, although this is typically done by males.

Females rarely use their scent glands except for when they are in estrus, whereas males often mark objects and even females!

Diet and Feeding

What’s for lunch, capybara? | rai via Getty Images

Capybaras are grazing herbivores. They primarily eat aquatic plants and various types of grasses. Occasionally, they may indulge in some fruits and tree bark.

Studies on capybara fecal pellets show that they prefer eating Hymenachne amplexicaulis (West Indian marsh grass) and Leersia hexandra (southern cutgrass), although their diet adjusts depending on the season, as many types of plants dry out when the humidity levels drop.

These giant rodents are highly selective feeders! They won’t just eat anything they stumble upon. Instead, they’ll choose plants that have high protein content.

Capybaras are very slow when grazing. They walk leisurely around their habitats searching for suitable plants, which is why they require several hours per feeding. 

Sometimes capybaras walk in line along previously established trails away from water sources to graze. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Family of capybaras swimming in a lake in Brazil | Yuina Takase via Getty Images

Capybaras reach sexual maturity when they’re 1.5 years old or weigh at least 30 kilograms (66 pounds). 

They breed year-round, but the peak season depends on their geographic location. 

For example, populations in Venezuela mate more frequently in April and May, while those in Mato Grosso, Brazil, register a breeding season peak in October and November.

Females experience something called an estrous cycle, during which their scent changes to attract males. 

It has been demonstrated that dominant males typically mate with more females than subordinate males.

Females have the upper hand in selecting a partner. Once the pair is formed, the two mate in water.

Once fertilization occurs, females undergo a gestation period of 130-150 days. 

The mother gives birth anywhere it finds suitable but prefers covered places as they offer some protection against avian predators.

Capybara parent with its babies | bozhdb via Getty Images

On average, each litter produces four babies, although the litter size can vary from one to eight.

Baby capybaras are precocious. They weigh approximately 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) and have teeth and fur at birth.

Although they can start eating grass once they’re a week old, the young continue to suckle for 3–4 months.

Since capybaras live in groups, the young have quite an amazing time, as they get to have fun with other juvenile capybaras!

Once they’re one year old, the juveniles already weigh approximately 22–24 kilograms (48.5–53 pounds) and add 20 more kilograms (44 pounds) during the following year. 

Studies show that in the wild, they add, on average, 62.4 grams (2.2 ounces) a day.

In the wild, capybaras live only 4–5 years because of predation, although their life expectancy is 8–10 years. In captivity, they can live much longer.

Ecological Role and Interactions

A brave capybara peacefully lying in the middle of several alligators on a lakeshore | Wirestock via Getty Images

Although large and heavy, capybaras often fall prey to ground-dwelling and flying predators like pumas, jaguars, caimans, eagles, and even snakes. 

It is believed that green anacondas are quite fond of capybara meals!

Despite this, capybaras are highly social – not only with animals but with humans, too! 

Some wildlife enthusiasts reported that capybaras may even attempt to socialize with ferocious creatures like crocodiles!

They’ve been spotted sleeping alongside turtles, ducks, birds, and other rodents. They even interact with monkeys in some zoos!

This Heron is the newest addition to the Capybara’s friends list | mlharing via Getty Images

Some people saw capybaras carrying other animals on their backs while swimming!

In short, if one were to make a list of the world’s friendliest animals, capybaras would definitely be among them!

Besides being chill and friendly, capybaras have an important ecological role. 

Since they feed on various grasses and aquatic plants, they contribute to keeping their habitats clean, thus also helping other animals thrive in their respective habitats.

Conservation Status and Threats

Capybaras grazing grass by the lake, Los Llanos, Venezuela | simonkr via Getty Images

The IUCN Red List assessed the capybara species as Least Concern in 2016 based on its large population, wide distribution, and presence in multiple protected areas. 

Specialists believe that the risk of steady population decline is minimal.

However, although their population is currently stable, this doesn’t mean they don’t face any threats. 

Humans often hunt capybaras for meat and leather, which leads to the disappearance of some populations.

It’s estimated that almost 80,000 capybara skins were exported from Argentina between 1976 and 1979! 

Nevertheless, it seems that the number of hunted capybaras has decreased in recent years.

Capybaras are currently found in multiple protected areas. Other populations, however, are constantly affected by the rapid urbanization and climate change that destroy their natural habitats. 

Consequently, they must adapt to living in new ecosystems that sometimes do not provide what they need to thrive.

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

Capybara relaxing while soaking in water | pedphoto36pm via Getty Images

Here are some unique adaptations capybaras have acquired over time:

  • Capybaras are autocoprophagous, which means they eat their own poop! Yes, you’ve heard that right! They do so because their feces are an excellent source of bacterial gut flora. Additionally, it is believed that by eating their poop, capybaras get the most protein and vitamin content from the food they ingest.
  • Besides eating their own poop, capybaras often regurgitate food to masticate it again, as this facilitates digestion.
  • Capybaras can stay underwater for approximately 5 minutes, which is an excellent advantage if they’re trying to hide from predators!
  • Capybaras can sleep in the water! All they’ve got to do is keep their heads above the water!
  • Considering their diet, the front teeth of a capybara are susceptible to constant wear, which is why they continuously grow throughout their owner’s lives.
  • Capybaras are also excellent runners, as they can reach speeds of up to 35 km/h (21.7 mph).

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

Humans became fascinated by capybaras a long time ago, probably around 2006–2007, when these rodents caught the attention of various photographers and YouTubers.

In May 2012, Katsuhito Watanabe, a capybara photographer, created a Twitter page for capybaras (@capybarahp) and gathered more than 20,000 followers, while the account’s Facebook page gathered more than 140,000 fans. This further increased the animal’s worldwide popularity.

In 2022, a family of capybaras arrived in Nordelta, Argentina, and settled there without even the slightest fear of humans or cars. 

A family of capybaras shelter under some hedges in Nordelta, greater Buenos Aires, on March 17, 2022 | Ciara Nugent via Time Magazine

Homeowners reported that they had attacked local dogs and were, in general, quite bold when it came to entering private gardens or crossing roads. In short, residents weren’t happy with the situation.

Shortly after, capybaras became an online meme as people started seeing them as symbols of class struggle based on the fact that they were chased from a territory they had once called home.

This event caught people’s interest, particularly because capybaras are friendly rodents that communicate quite efficiently with humans – they even let people pet and hand-feed them!

Besides destroying some pastures and crops during the dry season, there have never been any problems with these gentle creatures. Attacks on humans are very rare.

Future Prospects and Research

Save the capybaras! | RicardoKuhl via Getty Images

Although capybaras aren’t currently endangered, their populations are still threatened by habitat destruction, illegal poaching, and climatic change. 

Therefore, it is of the essence to raise awareness and encourage people to put in the effort to help them survive in a constantly changing world. 

It would be such a pity to learn that their population is decreasing!

The fact that capybaras must adapt to living in cities affects people, too, as these rodents are known to carry various diseases that can be spread to humans. 

Nowadays, multiple studies on capybaras focus particularly on this subject.


Capybaras are scientifically called Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris

Their closest relatives are the lesser capybaras, and both are part of the family that includes rock cavies and guinea pigs.

Grass-eating capybaras are the world’s largest living rodents! They’re native to South America and prefer living in forested areas close to water sources. 

Capybaras are excellent swimmers and spend much of their time chilling in the water. They can stay submerged for up to five minutes; can you believe this?

Although considered selective eaters, capybaras have recently learned to adapt to feeding on various plants, considering how fast habitats change nowadays.

Therefore, learning more about a capybara’s habits, lifestyle, and adaptations makes for excellent conservation efforts; after all, every significant action starts with small steps, right?


Do capybara bites hurt?

Capybara bites do hurt because these rodents have strong teeth. However, they rarely bite people, as they’re considered very docile and friendly creatures.

Do capybaras carry diseases?

Yes, capybaras may carry potentially zoonotic agents, such as Salmonella spp., Leptospira spp., and toxoplasma gondii, as well as rabies. Recent studies have shown that they may also be carriers of the Hepatitis E virus.

Are capybaras smart?

Capybaras are considered highly intelligent and even emotional creatures!


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