Saturday, 25 January 2014

Capybara - The World's Largest Rodent


Noun. Early 17th century.
[Spanish capibara or Portuguese capivara, from Tupi capiuára, from capi grass + uára eater.]

A large tailless river-dwelling rodent, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris,
of Central and S. America, resembling a guinea-pig.

On a trip to Spain in 2012, my daughter and I visited the CosmoCaixa science museum in Barcelona. One of the highlights of the museum is an indoor flooded forest displaying a variety of plants and animals that can be seen both above and below the waterline. The creature that most caught our eye was one like no other I had ever seen - it looked rather like an enormous hamster, with coarse brown hair and an angular but rather appealing face. It was about the size of a medium-sized dog, and it lazed quite happily at the water's edge in the company of a badling of ducks. There was no sign to tell me what it was, so I was unable to answer my daughter's incessant questions about what it was called, what it ate, was it dangerous, could it swim, etc, etc. I took the photo above, returned to Ireland, and it was only on showing it to a friend from South America that I learnt what this strange creature is: a capybara, the largest rodent in the world. And guess what? It's a rather interesting creature indeed ...

Photo by Miguel Ortiz
The capybara is native to South America, is closely related to the guinea pig, and is highly social, living in groups of up to 100 individuals. As the etymology suggests, they're herbivorous, eating mainly plants, fruit and occasionally tree bark. They can live for about 10 years, but in the wild tend to live considerably less due to natural predation (aww). They are agile both on land and in water - they can run about as fast as a horse, and can remain submerged for up to five minutes. Although they are hunted by humans for their meat and fur, they're not an endangered species (fast breeders), and are known to be of an amenable and friendly disposition - some people even keep them as pets. Melanie Typaldos (pictured above) writes the fascinating blog Capybara Madness, dedicated to "pet capybaras everywhere," but especially her two, Caplin and Garibaldi.

Have you ever seen a capybara?

Do you own a capybara?

Would you like to own a capybara?

Do please cap your bara in the comment box below.


  1. Replies
    1. This was completely new to me when I first saw it in Spain, Evi. They're oddly captivating - we just stood looking at it for ages, trying to work out what it was.

  2. After seeing pictures of these in a book, my daughter wanted one when she was little.
    She got a guinea pig! :)

    1. I had a guinea pig when I a wee lad, Jingles. His name was Tom, he was black and very handsome. Perhaps that's why I was so taken with the capybara ... ?

    2. My kid's piggy was called Flash - cos he could move like a flash of lightning!
      I've always been fascinated with the capybara simply because of its sheer size!
      Thank goodness mice don't get that big! :)

  3. Oh my word, look at that glorious guinea pig dog! It's amazing! It's gorgeous! And it likes to go for walkies? That's it, I no longer want an orange tomcat. I need a capybara.

  4. Aqui na minha cidade tem aos montes,nas calçadas na beira do rio no centro da cidade,num clube que fica numa ilhota,debaixo das pontes.Venham buscar algumas.Barra Mansa-RJ-Brasil