Capybara – The Largest Rodent in the World
Most people associate rodents with animals that are typically regarded as vermin. While it is true that small mammals such as rats and mice are representatives of the rodent family, other, more appealing furry creatures are also members of this group. One such animal is the Capybara, the South American mammal with the distinction of being the largest rodent species in the world. At first glance, the large size and shape of the Capybara often gives observers the impression that they are dealing with some kind of big, hairy pig. A closer look, however, reveals the distinctly rodent-like features of a brown, furry coat and guinea pig like face.
Capybaras can be over four feet long and weigh as much as 200 pounds. To maintain their large size, these herbivores need to spend most of their time grazing on grassy vegetation. Despite their need to take in a lot of food, they are actually very picky about the types of vegetation they consume and generally stick to eating leaves from just five or six species. Most of the grasses they ingest occur in and near aquatic environments and this large rodent is indeed semi-aquatic in nature. Capybaras have slightly webbed feet and make use of this adaptation to cross rivers, lakes, and escape from predators. This big rodent also spends a fair amount of time in the water to keep cool in the hot, tropical environments where they occur.
Capybaras are most common in open, swampy habitats and wet, grassy savannas such as in the Llanos of Venezuela and Columbia, and in the vast Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Capybaras are also found throughout the Amazon basin but instead of venturing into the rainforest, they keep to grassy habitats at the edges of Amazonian rivers. Capybaras tend to be nocturnal and shy in areas where they are hunted but are commonly seen and easily photographed in protected areas such as the Tambopata Reserve in southeastern Peru. In such places, Capybaras can often be observed at length as they graze or rest at the river’s edge. Here are a few more facts about this most photogenic of rodents:
Capybaras are a major source of prey for Amazonian predators- These big, plump rodents are believed to be the food of choice for Anacondas, are sometimes taken by Black Caimans, and are an important food source for Jaguars.
One adult Capybara can consume seven pounds of grass each day!
Capybaras are social animals- These Amazonian grazers typically occur in groups of ten to twenty individuals. Males, females, and young are often seen in the same group. In some areas of their range, Capybaras can be found in herds of over 100 individuals during the dry season.
Capybaras can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes.
The Capybara is used as a substitute for fish during Lent- The Roman Catholic tradition of eating fish on Fridays during Lent is commonly observed in much of South America. Capybaras are considered to be “honorary fish” and thus eaten on Fridays during Lent by Roman Catholics in Venezuela and other regions where this largest of rodents is common.