Featured Creature: Capybara

What cute creature takes the title of the largest rodent on Earth?

That would be the Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, more commonly known as the capybara. Although they resemble their smaller relatives, these aquatic mammals are the biggest rodents to walk the planet!

Photo from Encyclopedia Britannica

You’ve probably seen these large, round rodents all over social media as of late. Capybaras rose in fame due to their unusually round shape and friendly face, but their cuteness isn’t the only thing they have to offer! Native to South America, capybaras can be found inhabiting forests, savannas, and wetlands. Their hydrodynamic, barrel-like bodies and partially-webbed toes make capybaras excellent swimmers, and they tend to graze on grass and other aquatic plants nearby where they swim.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

Impressive size and skill

When it comes to the placement of their facial features, Capybaras somewhat resemble hippos due to their semi-aquatic nature. With their horizontal eyes, nose, and tiny ears all placed higher up on their skull, capybaras are able to hide most of their body underwater while still retaining clear vision, smell, and hearing. Capybaras can stay partially submerged under water for as long as they’d like as long as their nostrils are above the water’s surface, and they can stay fully submerged for up to five minutes at a time. This comes in handy when you’re hiding from predators!

As the largest rodents around, standing up to 2 feet tall (at the shoulders) and weighing up to 143 lbs/69kg, capybaras are pretty hefty creatures to prey on. Nevertheless, the capybara still has many predators to be wary of, especially when they’re young. Jaguars, caimans, pumas, foxes, bush dogs, anacondas, ocelots, eagles, and even humans are all predators to the capybara. Many of these predators are not aquatic, however, which is why the capybara’s ability to remain in water is so useful. 

The capybara population is generally stable, which means that the natural food chain they rely on remains intact, but humans can definitely severely alter capybara populations if overhunted. Capybaras are often hunted for their hide and meat, so populations can be low in certain areas. Luckily, the IUCN status for capybaras is currently “least concern” (LC), so it seems like the current population trend for capybaras is stable.


Photo by Lucas Oliveira on Unsplash

Another reason for the robust population may be the capybaras’ ability to adapt. Since different predators are more active at different times and during different seasons, capybaras will adjust for their predators’ schedules. Sometimes they’ll feed in the morning, sometimes at night, and sometimes in the afternoon. Capybaras typically live in herds—anywhere from 10-20, but also up to 40 individuals—so they will take turns standing for others as they graze or sleep. It must be nice to have someone looking out for you at all times— All for one, and one for all. 

Capybaras are also able to adapt in another, quite gross way: they consume their feces the morning after excretion. It sounds disgusting, but there’s a good reason for it! Because capybaras are herbivores, they have to constantly consume and digest vegetation, which can be difficult on their digestive systems. Since the fibers and cellulose will take a while to digest, it’s a better idea for capybaras to consume their feces, which is rich in nutrients and protein from the previously consumed grass. This will compensate for time when capybaras are lacking nutrients while their leafy “salad” is still being digested.

Take a look at a moment in the life of a young capybara family:

The capybara is quite the capable creature. To have so many predators yet remain so calm! I strive to be capybara-esque. 

Like all wildlife that depends on forests and wetlands, capybaras face the challenge of deforestation, drought, and other destructive activities. Despite possible difficulties, however, the capybara is a testament to the importance of adaptability and tranquility by making the most of what you have.

Cheers to capys!


Originally from South Korea, Yewon “Julie” Jeong grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, where she gained an enlightening perspective on the environment and developed her long-standing interest in eco-literacy. She is currently a student at Wellesley College intending to major in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Studies in hopes of pursuing a career that allows her to develop and manage projects intended to mitigate the impacts of degrading anthropogenic activities on disparaged communities.