Bio Facts: Capybara
Central and South America from Panama south to northern Argentina and Uruguay
Tropical rain forests, grasslands, rivers and lakes
Brown-gray fur, with a hint of reddish coloring. The back legs are longer, and feet have four webbed-like toes. The front legs are shorter, with feet having only 3 toes. On the top of the cylinder-shaped head are the eyes, ears, and nostrils. Males weigh between 75-140 lbs., and females are between 80-145 lbs. Both sexes are 1.5 - 2 feet tall at the shoulder and between 3.5 – 4.5 feet long.
5-10 years in the wild; 12 years in captivity
In the wild, they eat mainly aquatic plants and occasionally, grains, melons and squashes are part of the diet. In the Zoo, they are fed carrots, endive, romaine, monkey chow, ADF 16, sweet potatoes, pears, apples and bananas.
A typical group of capybaras includes one dominant male, some subordinate males, one or more females, and their young. The dominant male marks his territory with a secretion from a scent gland on top of his nose. In the wet season, capybaras feed together in groups of ten to forty. In the dry season, groups gather at the few remaining waterholes, forming herds of up to one hundred individuals.
Mating occurs year-round, and takes place in the water. A pregnant female leaves the group to give birth in a sheltered spot nearby. She rejoins the group the same day, leaving her newborns in a nest. The young join the herd in three to four days and eat grass within their first week. Until weaning, young stay in a close-knit group kept together by nursing mothers. When multiple litters are present, mothers suckle all young and not just their own offspring. The gestation period is 150 days, and 2 to 7 young are born.
The young have a continuous purring cry, which probably keeps them in communication with mothers. They are vulnerable to vultures, wild dogs, caimans, and foxes.
Predators include jaguars, foxes, birds of prey and wild dogs. If a predator is spotted, a capybara will bark to make other members of the group aware. They evade predators by going into the water.
Good swimmers. The location (top of the head) of the eyes, ears and nostrils makes it possible for the Capybara to see and hear while swimming. Also, the Capybara can hold its breath underwater for up to 5 minutes.
There is a scent gland located on the nose, and one on the anus. The male scent gland on the rear is odiferous. Both glands are used to mark territory.
The Capybara is the largest living rodent in the world. Capybara means, “master of the grasses”, in the Tupi language.
European naturalists once called the capybara the “water pig” and the “Orinoco hog.”
The capybara is descended from an animal that lived in North and South America. It was almost twice as long and nearly eight times as heavy as the capybara.
The scent gland on the top of the adult male’s nose is called morillo, which means “small hill” in Spanish.
Capybaras are hunted for their meat and tough skins that are used to make leather products. To help protect them, it is illegal to hunt capybaras in Colombia, and there are some restrictions in Venezuela.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
This huge rodent first arrived in the Zoo’s collection in September 1970. It has successfully bred here.