Capybara Characteristics

  • Are most active on land, but are skilled and graceful swimmers
  • Have partially-webbed feet that allow them to dive deep and swim underwater for long distances
  • Often hide in floating vegetation with only their eyes, ears, and nostrils sticking out of the water – much like a hippo
  • Prefer to poop in the water, and rarely “go” on land
  • Eat their poop as the bacteria it contains helps in digestion of their fibrous diet of grasses, reeds, and other water plants

Not “Rodents of Unusual Size”

Unlike the fictional “Rodents of Unusual Size” from The Princess Bride movie and book, capybaras are relatively docile, but do sometimes fight amongst themselves. But they can weigh more than 170 pounds. They hail from Central and South America (not the “Fire Swamp”) where they prefer to live near standing water like riversides, ponds, and marshes.

Capybaras have been called “swamp hogs” and “water pigs” as they were originally thought to be related to pigs. But as rodents, they are more closely related to… guinea pigs.

Just as with other rodents like porcupines and squirrels, capybaras’ long front teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime. However, like a camel, they chew from side-to-side and like a cow, they regurgitate their food to re-chew it.

“Rodent of Unusual Size” from The Princess Bride.

A Shared Space

After careful introductions between the two species, the capybaras share their exhibit space with the Zoo’s giant anteaters.

Zookeepers slowly and safely exposed the capybaras to the giant anteater. First, each species was allowed to smell the other, as they alternated being in the exhibit space. Then, they viewed each other through a mesh barrier. The individual introductions were based on each animal’s comfort level, and now the anteater alternates sharing space with the capys and with her mate, Ridley.

Where’s the Zoo’s male giant anteater? As with male giant anteaters in the wild, Ridley has his own quarters and only interacts with Anara if they are breeding.

Enjoy a look back at the Zoo’s previous group of capybaras, who arrived as youngsters in 2010.

Conservation Status

While the IUCN has not officially identified the status of the capybara population, experts generally agree that in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find this shy and sometimes nocturnal animal in the wild. Deforestation and habitat destruction are factors, and until recently hunting and poaching as a food source. New captive farming programs have helped relieve poaching.

What You Can Do:

Clean water is very important to the survival of all species, including capybaras. You can help prevent pollution in lakes, rivers, and oceans by making sure to properly dispose of chemicals and pet waste.