Capybara: Species Spotlight

I have big love for the Capybara. They are one of the animals that baffled my brain when I learnt about them and they have fascinated me ever since.

They are essentially a huge rodent. They are the largest member of the rodent family and are closely related to guinea pigs – as you can tell from the way that they look. Thankfully, this species is not considered endangered and can be found in South America, living in groups of between 10-20 individuals – however, this species is incredibly social, and the groups have been known to grow to up to 100 individuals! Which would be an amazing sight to see!!

Capybara are like huge guinea pigs… what more do I need to know?!? 

This was originally written for Small World, Big Cause in 2017, but bought to you fresh and fine, for The Curious Environmentalist. Enjoy 🙂

Species Spotlight: Capybara

Capybara’s are hunted, both for its meat and for the grease produced by its thick fatty skin which is often used in the pharmaceutical sector.

Capybara’s are hunted, both for its meat and for the grease produced by its thick fatty skin which is often used in the pharmaceutical sector. This has little impact on the number of the species, as the IUCN have classified the species as “Least Concern”. However, one of their main threats is loss of habitat due to the significant impact that deforestation is having on so many different species.

Now this is what still baffles me when I see them – their size. They do not look real! Capybara’s usually grow to between 3.5-4.4 foot in length and when on 4 legs stand at about 20-24 inches – which is really big for a rodent! I saw some recently on my trip to Hanwell Zoo, London and I still could not believe what I was looking at! They are massive.

As I mentioned before they are very social and friendly animals, they are herbivores too, so they mostly just go about their business without disrupting anyone. They are semi-aquatic, so they eat a variety of vegetation from both land and water.

They live for about 8-10 years in captivity; however, this is halved in the wild due to them being the prey for many carnivores including; jaguars, pumas, caiman, eagles, anacondas and ocelots – so they have a lot to contend with. They can, however, put up a reasonably good fight. On land they can run as fast as a horse and they are equally at home in the water. To evade predators, they can be known to completely submerge themselves for 5 minutes underwater. They can also sleep in water, providing their nose is exposed, they have evolved their behaviour to allow them to avoid predators wherever possible – which is impressive.

I think that as a species they are an intriguing mammal and something that I would love to learn more about the evolution of, to understand why they have such a size difference to other rodents that we are more used to seeing day to day. Whilst it is good that this species is not considered endangered, through being an inhabitant of the rainforest, it is one in which we should keep close tabs on.

Deforestation and loss of habitat is one of the main threats to so many different species and is why it’s so important that we fight to save what is left of our rainforests and protect the abundance of species that call it home. Hopefully, the Capybara will continue to thrive and evade predators for many years to come, but as we are currently living through a mass extinction event, what I am really worried about is if any species can really be considered “least concern”.


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