I must say, I have been quite scandalized lately to discover exactly how many people don’t know what a capybara is. In my childhood, capybaras featured as regularly in animal lore as elephants and tigers and other exotic beasts, and as an adult I’ve found it hard to fathom that anybody else didn’t have the same experience. (I mean, obviously we don’t all have the same childhood, but how did these people survive all this time without knowing about capybaras?!) My love for capybaras came about mostly because as a child I was an avid consumer of Bill Peet‘s brilliantly illustrated children’s books, and one of my favorites was his story — based on his own life with his family’s pet capybara — called Capyboppy. (Also, I feel I should point out that as an adult I’m an avid consumer of Bill Peet’s children’s books. The man was a genius. Cowardly Clyde? Come on. Amazing.)
So, because I feel like you might be missing out on the best of all possible things by somehow failing to know what a capybara is, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite mammals. It’s much cuter than your average R.O.U.S., but is in fact the largest rodent in the world, standing 50-64cm tall at the withers. They weigh about a hundred pounds — that’s almost as much as my gargantuan dog. Good lord. They have slightly webbed feet and enjoy swimming, eating grass and water plants, and living in groups. They’re quite vocal and when they’re alarmed or excited they bark sort of like dogs.
Capybaras are native to South America, and are a pretty important part of the food web there, providing meals for humans, anacondas, caimans, jaguars, ocelots, eagles, and probably just about anything else that likes to eat meat because seriously, these things are freaking huge. You might see them outside of South America though because, like Bill Pete, there are some people who really like to keep them as pets. Here’s one with a pretty sweet pool set-up, and here’s the same little fella going for a walk. (It’s possible I’m a little addicted to that youtube channel.) Keeping them as pets isn’t legal in some places though, and they’re pretty high-maintenance animals since they’re semi-aquatic and are wild animals and all, so don’t just run out and buy one. But if you’d like to live vicariously through somebody who does have a capybara, you should visit Caplin Rous’ blog.
Capybara reproduction is pretty standard for mammals, but there are a few interesting highlights. When the female is ready to mate, she alerts the males by whistling through her nose. (If only we could teach the females to wolf whistle, my life would be complete.) They actually mate only in the water, which I can only assume is because they’ve watched too many hot-tub-centric pornos, and then when the babies come there can be up to four in a litter. The wee ones nurse but also start nibbling at solid food pretty much right away, and they’re looked after by the whole group; capybaras believe it takes a village to raise a child.
Speaking of pups, baby capybaras are insanely cute. They’re like tiny little versions of the adults.
Look at that baby capy. LOOK AT IT. Then watch this video of a baby at the San Diego Zoo and try to tell me your heart didn’t just grow three sizes. Just TRY to tell me that.
Now that you’ve nearly overdosed on the cuteness of capybaras, I hope that you’ll also take a look at Capyboppy next time you’re in the library or bookstore, and introduce yourself to the works of Bill Peet if you’re not already familiar. Because reading is fundamental, and even capybaras know that.