The capybara is the world's largest rodent. You probably wouldn't
find one of these scouring your kitchen late at night. The capybara
can grow up to four feet long and weigh up to 145 pounds. Its body is
covered in short, pale, and rather coarse hair. Its ears and tail are
small and the feet are slightly webbed. There is a large bump in the
middle of the top of the nose, which appears to be a scent gland of
some kind. The capybara is most often confused with a pig; it's short
hair and squirrel like head makes it an interesting looking animal indeed!
It even gives off a series of bizarre moans, squeaks, and grunts, similar
to a pig.
The capybara is active during the day and almost always along Amazonian
lowland lakes and rivers, into which it dives to escape danger. Although
they are a bit clumsy on land, capybaras are excellent swimmers. They
are more likely to be seen in the dry season when there are more river
banks on which to roam. They have a strong social system that depends
on how much water there is to spread out into. They often can be found
in groups of up to 20. At the slightest hint of danger they leap into
the water and disappear under the surface to emerge far river beaches
and in the mud along lake shores. However, because they are mammals,
they can't stay underwater forever. Instead, they will float in the
water with their noses sticking out, getting just enough oxygen to breathe
but remaining quite hidden. The capybara feeds on aquatic vegetables
and also fruits. They are preyed up on by large mammals and reptiles,
including large snakes, pumas, ocelots, caimans, eagles, and jaguars.
Capybaras are polygamous, which means that they mate with more than
one partner during their lifetime. They mate in the water just before
the rainy season. The females have litters of up to 8 young, usually
about 4, and the gestation period (the time the baby develops in the
mother's womb) is about 5 months. When the babies are born, the newborns
follow their mothers around and eat plants almost immediately, but they
still drink the mother's milk as well. The entire group of females takes
care of the newborn babies. The capybara is considered some of the most
superior of wild meats because it is tasty, tender, and lacks odor.
It can frequently be purchased in Peru and is a quite expensive delicacy.
Because of this, capybaras are widely raised in captivity to meet the
demand for their market. After all, they are considered to be the holiday
meal for Easter dinner. If they are not killed for their meat, they
live on average about ten years.