Capybaras are the largest living rodents. They spend the majority of their lives near water. They are mammals, their closest relatives are agouti, chinchillas, guinea pigs (cavy). Their name originates from the Indian language and it means master of grass. They live in South America and have a similar lifestyle to those of hippopotamuses.
They have a pear-shaped body and a short head. The lower part of their body is covered in red and brown fur. Their fur is very stiff and can be 3-12 cm long. On some areas of the body, the fur can be so thin that the skin becomes visible. Adult capybaras can be 90 – 140 cm long and can reach the height of up to 60 cm. Males and females have different weights. Males can weigh up to 50kg, while females can weigh up to 70kg or even more. Their back legs are a little longer than their front pair of legs. The front pair of legs has 4 fingers, while their back legs have only 3 fingers. They spent a lot of time in the water. While in water, only their head is visible. They can dive and are good swimmers.
They live in two distinct areas. The minority lives in East Panama, North Columbia, and Northwest Venezuela. The majority of the population lives east of The Andes and in the southeast parts of Southern America. They live near lakes, rivers or swamps which have rich shore-side vegetation. They predominately live in lowlands; however, they can live at altitudes of 1300 m above the sea level. Oppose to other animals, capybaras are extremely adaptable to the environment that was changed by people. This means they can live on plantations and on the pastures.
Their activities increase during the evening and in the morning. During the day they are sitting around in shallow waters or are sunbathing. At night, they hide in their hideouts which have dense vegetation. They don´t dig holes. When in danger they swim into the deep water. Other water-based activities are carried out in the shallow water.
In the wild, capybaras live in large groups. There is a couple with many offspring and many other adults. The groups usually consist of 20 – 30 individuals, but there are also groups of 100 individuals. Adult males also live a life of a recluse. It all depends on the weather conditions. During dry seasons the groups are larger and are living on lake shores or river banks. During rainy seasons they disperse into smaller groups. Because of food shortages and protection, a lot of them die during the dry spells. A dominant male leads the group. It has one or more females with its offspring. Then there are the other, underlying, males. For proper nourishment, the group needs approximately 20 – 80 hectares of grass. This territory is being defended against other groups of capybaras. They mark their territory with a secretion from their gland, located underneath the male’s snout or in the anal areas of both males and females. They communicate via different sounds which represent different emotions, such as satisfaction, dominance, aggression, fear, and danger.
Capybaras are sexually mature after 22 months; the gestation period lasts 130 – 150 days. They usually have 4 offspring, sometimes 8. The offspring can follow their mother right after birth.
Capybaras can be easily domesticated. You can teach them to stand on their two feet, walk on two legs or even take them for walks if you keep them on a leash. In some parts of the USA, people keep them in apartments where they bathe with their owners in pools. Capybaras can reach the speeds of 70km/h. These are very intelligent animals, fast learners with an excellent memory. They can last underwater for 5 minutes. These animals are protected in some areas, as the locals hunt them for food. EAZA – European Association of Zoos and Aquaria – keeps a genealogy register of the number of births, migrations, habitats and number of deaths in Europe.