It’s feature time! The next animal I’d like to feature is the largest rodent in the world – the capybara! Native to Central and South America, the capybara is actually fairly stable in their numbers and relatively easy to keep in captivity. Males reach up to 150 pounds which is quite large considering fellow species in the rodent category (mice, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, etc). Similar to some other rodents they are often found in family groups, usually around 10-20 individuals large. Females produce 4-5 young per litter and they are communally nursed and raised by the females of the group.
Their common name, capybara, comes from the native Brazilian ‘one who eats slender leaves’, while their scientific name means ‘water pig’. Both these translated names tell a lot about capybara characteristics. Capybaras are herbivores eating grasses and water plants, as well as fruit and bark. They also practice coprophagy, eating their own feces. This helps to digest tough cellulose and gain more nutrients out of their diet. The capybaras most famous trait is their affinity for water. They are considered semi-aquatic, spending a significant time in the water. This is for many reasons: protection from the sun and heat, to escape predators, and for mating. They have adapted webbed feet to better swim and move along muddy banks, as well as thin coarse hair which dries quickly. Facial features towards the top of their head are easier for water living, and they are able to fold back their ears which prevents water from entering. Being able to remain submerged for up to 5 minutes also helps! Although they only live near water, they are not picky about the type. They are found along rivers, lakes, swamps, ponds, marshes, and even flooded areas. This water requirement enhances their viewing in zoos as well. Seeing them sitting or swimming in the water is interesting and fun for children. Capybaras provide an excellent educational moment for people of all ages: learning about the geography of their native habitat, the species which make up rodents, and adaptations essential for their survival.
While they may not be one of the major draws to zoos, I have found that they are a fairly common resident of them! Check your local zoo to see if they have them!