The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), also known as capibara, chigüire in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador ronsoco in Peru, chigüiro, and carpincho in Spanish and capivara in Portuguese, is the largest living rodent in the world. Its closest relatives are agouti, chinchillas, coyphillas, and guinea pigs. Its common name, derived from Kapiÿva in the Guarani language, means "master of the grasses" while its scientific name, hydrochaeris, is Greek for "water hog". We were lucky to see many families along the river journey.
Capybaras have heavy, barrel-shaped bodies and short heads with reddish-brown fur on the upper part of their body that turns yellowish-brown underneath. Adult capybaras may grow to four foot four in length, and weigh up to one hundred and forty pounds. The top recorded weight is two hundred and yhirty two pounds. Capybaras have slightly webbed feet, no tail and twenty teeth. Their back legs are slightly longer than their front legs and their muzzles are blunt with eyes, nostrils and ears on top of their head. Females are slightly heavier than males by about ten pounds.
Capybara are never seen far from a Giant Cow-bird. When their friend takes a dip to cool off the bird waits quietly on the bank
Development: Capybaras reach sexual maturity within twenty two months months and breed when conditions are perfect, which can be once per year (such as in Brazil) or throughout the year (such as in Venezuela and Colombia). The male pursues a female and mounts when the female stops in water. Capybara gestation is 130 - 150 days and usually produces a litter of four capybara babies, but may produce between two and eight in a single litter. Birth is on land and the female will rejoin the group within a few hours of delivering the newborn capybaras, who will join the group as soon as they are mobile. Within a week the young can eat grass, but will continue to suckle - from any female in the group - until weaned at about sixteen weeks. Youngsters will form a group within the main group. The rainy season during April and May, mark the peak breeding season. Like other rodents, the front teeth of capybaras grow continually to compensate for the constant wearing-down from eating grasses, their cheek teeth also grow continuously. When fully grown, a capybara will have coarse hair that is sparsely spread over their skin, making the capybara prone to sunburn, rolling in mud is nature’s sun lotion. The Capybara has an extremely efficient digestive system that sustains the animal. 75% of its diet comes from only three to six species of plants.
Habitat: Capybara are semi-aquatic mammals found wild in much of South America (including Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana, Uruguay, Paraguay and here in Peru) 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 forest. They roam in home ranges of twenty five to fifty acres. Many escapees from captivity can also be found in similar watery habitats around the world. Sightings are fairly common in Florida, although a breeding population has not yet been confirmed.
Diet: Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. An adult capybara will eat six to eight pounds of grasses per day. Capybara's jaw hinge is non-perpendicular and they thus chew food by grinding back and forth rather than side-to-side. Capybaras are coprophagous, meaning they eat their own faeces as a source of bacterial gut flora and in order to help digest the cellulose in the grass that forms their normal diet and extract the maximum protein from their food. Additionally, they may regurgitate food to masticate the food again, similar to cud-chewing by a cow.
This Capybara was very offended when the Cowbird dug in his ear. They soon made up
Behaviour: Capybaras are social animals, usually found in groups, between ten and thirty (though larger groups of up to 100 sometimes can be formed), controlled by a dominant male (who will have a prominent scent gland on his nose used for smearing his scent on the grasses in his territory.) They communicate through a combination of scent and sound, being very vocal animals with purring and alarm barks, whistles and clicks, squeals and grunts. Capybaras are excellent swimmers and can survive completely underwater for up to five minutes, an ability they will use to evade predators. If necessary, a Capybara can sleep underwater, keeping its nose just over the waterline. During midday, as temperatures increase, Capybaras wallow in water and graze in late afternoons and early evenings when it is cooler. They sleep little, usually dozing off and on throughout the day and grazing into and through the night.
Predators: They have a life span of four to eight years in the wild but average a life less than four years as they are "a favourite food of jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle and caiman". The capybara is the preferred prey of the anaconda.
Conservation: Capybara are not on the IUCN list and therefore not considered a threatened species; their population is stable through most of their South American ranges, though in some areas hunting has reduced their numbers. Capybaras are hunted for their meat and pelts in some areas, and otherwise killed by humans who see their grazing as competition for livestock. The skins are particularly prized for making fine gloves because of its unusual characteristic of stretching in just one direction. In some areas they are farmed, which has the effect of ensuring that the wetland habitats are protected. Their survival is aided by their ability to breed rapidly. Capybaras can be found in many areas in zoos and parks, and may live for twelve years in captivity.
Human interaction: Capybaras are gentle and will usually allow humans to pet and hand-feed them. The meat is said to look and taste like pork. The capybara meat may be dried and salted, then shredded and seasoned. Considered a delicacy, it is often served with rice and plantains. During Lent, capybara meat is especially popular in parts of South America, especially in Venezuela, as it is claimed that the Catholic Church, in a special dispensation, allowed capybara meat to be consumed on days that consumption of meat was otherwise not allowed. There are differing accounts of how the dispensation arose. Capybaras are occasionally kept as pets in the United States and in Canada.
ALL IN ALL CUTE IN A FUNNY SORT OF WAY
AN ODD MIXTURE AND NOT THAT SHY