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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 150 days


  • 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


  •  Yearlings disperse from parents' group


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


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

Typical Life Expectancy

Wild populations

  • 7–10 years

Managed care

  • Median life expectancy (AZA 2023)
    • Males: 7.1 years
    • Females: 8.6 years


  • 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 Wildlife Alliance. 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)

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