The Capybara

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During my world trip, I visited Peru and spent 6 glorious, and very dirty, days in the Amazon rainforest. It was, by far, one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, even though I was bitten to death by mosquitoes. Whilst there, I managed to see quite a few capybaras. We spotted these adorable rodents every morning as they came down to the riverbank to munch on grass or have a dip in the river. Here’s why I love these curious creatures.

The Capybara is the largest rodent in the world and is related to the guinea pig. They are highly social animals, they live in groups of around ten to twenty. From my own experience, I never spotted a solo capybara, they were always either in pairs or trios, watching out for each other and keeping an eye out for pumas and jaguars, their main enemies. Typically, a capybara groups consists of two to four adult males, four to seven adult females, with the remainder of the group being juveniles.

Capybaras are grazing herbivores, eating grasses and aquatic plants. They are selective feeders which means that they only feed on one specific species of plant and leave any other species surrounding it. In the dry season, due to there being fewer plants available, the capybaras have to eat a greater variety of plants as they don’t have the luxury of being so selective. They chew food by grinding it back and forth in their mouths, rather than moving the food from side-to-side. Capybaras are also able to regurgitate food so that they can chew it again, similar to cows. Just like other rodents, the capybara’s front teeth grow continuously as they are constantly being worn down from grass eating. Now for the gross part: capybaras are autocoprophagous. This means that they eat their own poo! Since their poo is a good source of bacterial gut flora, eating it helps them to digest the cellulose in the grass, which means that they are able to extract all of the proteins and vitamins from their food.

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Capybaras are semi-aquatic; they love to swim! One day, when cruising up the Tambopata river in a boat, we spotted two capybaras swimming next to us, their little heads peeking up from the water and their slightly webbed feet paddling away. I was quite surprised by how fast they were able to move. On land, they look like bulky creatures, but they were so graceful and quick in the water. Other than having webbed toes and powerful hind legs to help them move through the water, capybaras also have ears and eyes that are positioned on the top of their heads. This makes it easier for them to keep their ears and eyes out of the water so that they can be on alert for predators such as caiman and anaconda. Amazingly, they can also hold their breaths for up to five minutes, and can even sleep in water!

After only ever seeing capybaras in zoos, I was very excited to spot them in the wild. Not only are they super cute, but they are also well adapted to their environment which makes them ultimate curious creatures 🙂

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