Capybara: Life Cycle, Mating & Reproduction

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia is an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting. She also has a BSChE.

The Capybara is a large rodent found in the watery regions of Central and South America. This lesson is about the Capybara and its life cycle, mating and reproduction habits.

Making a Splash with the Capybara

Is the heat getting to you already this spring? Then maybe it's time to play in the pool with the Capybara! He's a large, semi-aquatic rodent who lives in the warm climates of Central and South America. When he jumps in, there's going to be a big splash, because he can weigh up to 165 pounds and can be as long as about 4.6 feet! But he's a gentle guy, so you don't have to worry. As long as he's got his plants to eat, his water for swimming, and is safe from predators, he's super friendly!

The capybara himself
The Capybara

The Life and Environment of the Capybara

The capybara, or Hydrochoerus Hydrochaeris, is a stocky fellow. He's also known as the water hog. He's furry and rather cute, with a color from brown to reddish-brown to yellow and he lives a humble and peaceful life in the wild.

Anatomy of the Capybara

The capybara was built to swim. He has an oblong head, with eyes, ears, and nostrils on top. This enables him to see, hear and smell even when swimming or in water. The capybara can remain submerged for up to five minutes, and can swim long distances while submerged. This helps him to avoid predators.

The capybara has thin fur, allowing it to dry quickly after leaving the water. His skin is unusual because the epidermis is covered in tissue folds that create a larger area for cooling the body. However, it's difficult for the capybara to stay cool because of his lack of effective sweat glands.

The capybara has short, stubby legs with four toes in front, and three in back. Each toe has a hoof-like claw. The claws are connected by webbing. This enables the cabybara to negotiate muddy areas without sinking, and to easily travel marshy, swampy areas.

Digesting grasses is not an easy task, but the capybara has adapted to this quite well. He's got two pairs of large rodent incisors, with molars located on each side of the lower jaw.

Capybara skull
Capybara skull and teeth

Environment and Diet of the Capybara

Capybaras must live in areas where there are sources of fresh, not salt, water. They are found in marshes and swamps, or near rivers and lakes.

Capybaras are herbivores, which means they eat only plants. They eat the grasses and aquatic plants that are found alongside the rivers and in the marshes they inhabit. They can eat up to eight pounds of grass a day.

The capybara inhabits warmer climates, such as those of Central and South America. Because of this, the capybara is most active in the morning and evening, spending the hottest part of the day cooling off in the water.

Capybaras also eat their own feces, which contain bacteria that helps to break down the fiber from the grasses and plants for easier digestion. During droughts, capybaras also expand their diet to consume melons, squashes, grains and various reeds.

Social Behavior, Mating and Reproduction

Capybaras are very social creatures. They live in herds of up to twenty members, with a dominant male, several females and their young, and some submissive males. Only the dominant male may breed with the females. Capybaras will rarely accept a stranger into their herd.

Capybaras reproduce once a year, if the conditions are right. While they don't require violins and a candlelit dinner, they do need a rainy season, preferably April or May. They become sexually mature at around eighteen months. The male detects when the female is ready to mate by her scent and then they breed in the water.

The gestation period of the capybara is about one hundred and fifty days. Two to eight pups are born, weighing two to four pounds each. The female leaves the herd to give birth somewhere private, then returns, to be followed by the pups three or four days later, when they learn how to walk.

Capybara Mom and Pups
Capybara mom and pups

Capybara pups drink Mom's milk until they are around four months old, but they can also eat grass after about a week. All of the females in the herd share the responsibility of providing milk for the pups.

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