Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Capybaras (Hydrochoerus spp.) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship

  • In mating season, dominant males conspicuously guard females
  • When female in estrus, dominant male sniffs her frequently
  • Female whistles when in estrus to attract males
  • Female pursued by male enters water and swims back and forth
    • Pair mates in water; female often submerged for brief copulation
    • Females not wanting to mate may dive deep enough to dislodge male
  • Mating pair often interrupted by a second male

Reproduction

  • Mating season year round with peak at beginning of wet season
  • Female estrus cycle: every 7.5 days; remain receptive only 8 hours
  • One litter per year; two litters possible under good conditions
  • Harem-based polygynous breeding (one dominant male, several females)
  • Life span of male's sperm longer than that in most rodents; capybara mating system promotes sperm competition
  • Group association essential for raising young; groups smaller than four adults fail to rear any young

Gestation and Birth

 Gestation

  • 150 days

Birth

  • 4 to 5 pups most common; a breeding group may have 15 pups or more at one time
  • At birth young weigh about 1,500 grams (3.3 lbs)
  • At birth, all cheek teeth already erupted, with signs of wear (Kramarz 2002)

Life Stages

Infant (< 1 year old)

  • Young can follow mother and eat grass shortly after being born (are precocial)
  • Young nurse about 16 weeks
    • Young may suckle indiscriminately from several females;
  • Small groups of young move about herd, nudging females until one stands to allow nursing
  • Very young ride on females' backs
  • Very young avoid water where caiman and anaconda lurk
  • Females spend a lot of time caring for young of different ages

Juvenile

  •  Yearlings disperse from parents' group

Subadult

  •  By 18 months, weigh about 40 kg (88 lb.)

Adult

  • Females sexually mature age 7 to 12 months
  • Males between 15 and 24 months

Longevity

  • Average life span: 7-10 years
  • In managed care, up to 15 years

Mortality

  • Preyed upon by foxes, bush dogs, feral dogs, ocelots, cayman, jaguars, eagles, caracaras, black vultures and human hunters
  • Wild capybara, especially in Venezuela, are poached and illegally hunted more intensely in the weeks before Easter, when they are a sanctioned by the Catholic Church as a substitute for fish (because of their semi-aquatic habits).
  • Jaguars prey most often on young males at the periphery of the group (and furthest from the water)

Young Capybara

baby capybara

A one-day old capybara, weighing only 3 to 5 pounds.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Macdonald and Herrera (2001)
Nogueira et al (1999)
Ojasti. (1968)
Paula et al (1999)
Rowlands and Weir (1974)
Weigl (2005)

SDZG Library Links