What is a Capybara? - Facts, Adaptations & Habitat

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

The capybara is a large, semi-aquatic animal native to Central and South America. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the capybara, including which other animals it's closely related to.

Rodents of All Sizes

If you were to mention the word rodent to a group of people, you would most likely elicit a wide variety of responses. Many people shudder at the mere mention of the word, imagining swarms of rats and mice. Others might be fans of pet rodents, such as guinea pigs and hamsters. Whatever your preference, how would you feel about encountering a rodent the size of a large dog? Enter the capybara, the largest rodent in the world! Join us as we explore some facts about this giant among rodents.

The capybara is a giant among its fellow rodents.

What Is a Rodent?

Capybaras belong to the order Rodentia. Although there are about 1,500 different species of rodent, some of the more recognizable include rats, mice, squirrels, hamsters, beavers and guinea pigs. There are certainly vast differences among rodents, but they all share some common traits. All rodents are mammals, and each species has long front teeth that never stop growing. The need to keep their teeth filed down accounts for their constant and often pesky chewing.

Characteristics of the Capybara

The capybara is a rodent native to Central and South America. As mentioned earlier, it's the largest of its kind. Although a close cousin of the guinea pig, their general body shape is about all they have in common as far as looks go. The capybara stands at about two feet tall and weighs around 100 pounds, about the size of a large Labrador Retriever. Its name is derived from the Greek word for ''water hog.'' This name fits, as its barrel-shaped body and hoof-like claws tend to remind one of a pig.

While many rodents are furry, and some are downright fluffy, the capybara is not. It has long, coarse, reddish-brown hair that sparsely covers its body. With plenty of exposed skin, this animal is prone to sunburn and must adapt accordingly to avoid it. It's trick? The capybara rolls in mud, effectively covering itself with a physical sunblock to protect its skin.

The capybara has a thick, square-shaped muzzle, housing its trademark long front teeth. Capybaras are herbivores, using their razor sharp front teeth to slice through long blades of grass. Grasses make up about 80% of their diet. Capybaras spend much of their time grazing, eating up to eight pounds of grass per day.

Capybara Habitat & Adaptations

Water is a way of life for the capybara, and it serves many different purposes. Capybaras are semi-aquatic and are top-notch swimmers. They live near lakes, rivers, streams, swamps and marshes. When they aren't in the water, they're close by, usually grazing in grassy areas. Capybaras have a handy adaptation for the water: partially webbed feet. Like swim fins for us, this webbing helps them get around more effectively in water.

Water serves many purposes for the capybara.

Because capybaras are native to warm climates, it's important for them to regulate their body temperature in the heat of the day. These animals have undeveloped sweat glands, meaning they cannot cool down by sweating. So, they spend the hottest hours hanging out in ponds or marshes to keep cool. Another bonus is that they can munch on water plants while they bathe.

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