Monday, July 30, 2012

Animal Spotlight: The Capybara

Today, we are going to investigate the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris).  Listed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN, both parts of its scientific name, hydrochoerus and hydrochaeris mean the same thing.  As you probably noticed, they both contain the Greek root "hydro," which, as you probably know, means "water."  The second half would be forgivable if you were unfamiliar with it: it means hog, or pig.  So, from its scientific name, we can assume that the capybara is a water pig.

Again, it would be understandable if you were to think that, as the capybara most definitely resembles a pig, at least superficially.  However, the capybara is not pig: instead, it is a rodent, related to creatures such as chinchillas.  As a matter of fact, the capybara is the world's largest extant rodent

Semi-aquatic, the capybara has evolved webbed feet, like many other semi-aquatic animals, like the POLAR BEAR.  An herbivore, the capybara must face attacks from many predatory animals, including the caiman (a relative of a crocodile), eagles, ocelot, puma/mountain lion, jaguar, and the anaconda, for who the capybara is its favorite meal.  The capybara generally travels in herds of around ten or twenty, but groups of up to one hundred have been seen before.

Capybara are fairly common zoo animals, and, when they escape into the wild, if they can find a semi-aquatic habitat that they like, they can often survive and thrive.  Sightings are common throughout Florida, and there have been sightings in California as well. 

When it isn't an escaped convict of the zoo, the capybara lives throughout most of mainland South America (thus excluding Trinidad and Tobago), except for the country of Chile.  These countries are Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Not enough capybara for you?  Well just check out these two amusing video clips below!  The first one shows a capybara with a case of the hiccups at the Bristol Zoo in England (UK), while the one below shows squirrel monkeys riding capybaras at the Saitama Zoo in Saitama, Japan.

The Hiccuping Capybara

Squirrel Monkeys Riding Capybaras

Finally, here are a pair of pictures that I took of one of the capybaras at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas.  Enjoy!
One of the capybaras sleeping at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas.
One of the capybaras sleeping at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas.

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