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Capybaras (Hydrochoerus spp.) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Attribute Greater Capybara, H. hydrochaeris Lesser Capybara, H. isthmius
Body Weight 35-65 kg* (77-143 lbs) No data available
Head/Body Length 1070-1340 mm (3.5-4.4 ft) 1025 mm (3.4 ft)
Hindfoot Length 220-250 mm (8.7-9.8 in)

200 mm (7.9 in) (holotype)

Source for data, above: Lord (2009); Wilson and Mittermeier (2016)

* 35 to 65.5 kg (77 lb to 144 lb) in Venezula's Llano region; a record 91 kg (200 lb) in southern Brazil

General Appearance

General

  • Largest living rodent
    • Body size and mass increases with a population's increased latitude
  • Resembles a large guinea pig
  • Barrel-shaped body
  • Heavy, blunt muzzle
  • Cheek teeth ever-growing
  • Front legs shorter than rear legs
  • Nails strong, hoof like
  • Spends a lot of time in water
    • Eyes and small ears set high on head (can be alert while nearly underwater)
    • Can stay fully underwater for several minutes
    • Slightly webbed toes (four on the front, three on the back)
    • Water immersion helps capybara regulate body temperature

Pelage and Skin

  • Hunted for pelts in historic times and managed on ranches today
    • 1960 to 1969: 1.5 million skins exported from Brazil
  • Coloration generally reddish-brown to grayish on upper parts, yellow-brown on undercarriage
    • Some black on the face, outer limbs and rump
  • Long, course, and sparse hair may help this water-loving animal dry when out of water
    • Thin hair makes sunburn a problem; mud caked on hair offers protection
  • Low number of sweat glands in skin, plus large body size, make thermal stress a problem

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Males have large visible scent gland (morrillo) on top of snout
    • Used to rub on vegetation to mark territory
    • May function also as status signal
      • Larger morrillos associated with larger testes and greater sexual activity
    • Females have same gland, but underdeveloped

Other Characteristics

  • Teeth of capybara grow throughout life in all dimensions
  • Cutting and grinding surfaces become more complex as an individual ages

Capybara

star shaped footprints of capybaras

Star-shaped footprints

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Herrera (1992)
MacDonald (1984)
Mones & Ojasti (1986)
Pereira et al (1980)
Nowak (1999)

SDZWA Library Links