Making a Giant Ancestors of the capybara developed in Africa around 80 million years ago and arrived in South America 40 million years later. Its relatives are all rodents of typical size; for example, the related rock cavies, which dwell in the scrublands of eastern Brazil, weigh only two pounds each. The capybara is the largest rodent in North America.
The first evidence of this animal's existence comes from fossil remains found in Africa. They show that the capybara was much smaller back then, probably not more than 20 inches long and 4 pounds or less. It is believed that over time it evolved into its present form. There are no other species of capybara in Africa, so scientists think that it might have come to dominate its environment after other large rodents became extinct there during a period of climate change about 10 million years ago.
In South America, the capybara was able to survive due to its ability to swim across large bodies of water. Since it can hold its breath for up to four minutes, this must have been an important skill for its ancestors to possess.
The capybara was used by Native Americans as a food source and tool to catch fish. They would use their large noses to dig holes under riverbanks where they could hide from predators. When a fish came near, they would jump out and grab it with their strong claws.
Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Northeast Argentina, and Uruguay are all home to capybaras. They are semi-aquatic and spend the most of their time in dense vegetation near rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, and swamps. Males defend a territory consisting of 50 to 500 square meters (0.5 to 5 acres), which they patrol by moving through the vegetation with their long flexible noses stuck into the soil. Females will give birth to one baby at a time. The newborns are very small, only weighing about 100 grams (3.5 ounces), and are equipped with fur around their eyes that helps protect them from sunlight while their skin color changes from yellow to black.
Capybaras are omnivorous and will eat anything that is edible. They can be found eating plants, fruits, seeds, insects, worms, frogs, lizards, mice, birds' eggs, and even small pieces of meat if available. Although mostly vegetarian, they will also eat fish if given the chance. Capybaras use their large sharp teeth to chew through any plant material that they eat. They also soak their food in their own special saliva before eating it so that it tastes better and is easier to digest.
In captivity, capybaras need water to survive. They will drink up to 20 percent of their body weight in water each day.
Originally assumed to be a kind of pig, we now know the capybara is a rodent related to cavies and guinea pigs. A water pig Hippos live in Africa, and capybaras live in the Americas! The capybara shares a feature with the hippo: its eyes, ears, and nose are all located towards the top of its head. However, other than that, they are quite different animals. For example, the capybara has legs, while the hippo does not.
Capybaras get their name from the Quechua language of South America, which means "water sheep". They weigh about as much as a small dog and have a thick coat of fur around their body and tail. Their large ears are made up of thousands of hair cells used for hearing underwater. Capybaras are found in water environments ranging from swamp lands to rivers to lakes. They usually avoid human-made bodies of water such as ponds or reservoirs. Although rarely seen, capybaras do come onto land when food is scarce. During these rare occasions, scientists have observed them walking across fields looking for something to eat.
Capybaras are known to be active during the night and early morning hours, but will sleep most of the day. They feed on plants near water and any garbage that humans leave behind. Insects, crustaceans, and small fish make up most of their diet, but they will also eat meat if given the opportunity.