Can guinea pigs and capybaras live together?
Capybaras - the "masters of the grasses"
They can swim, dive, run and bark. However, capybaras have nothing to do with pigs. They are rodents - and indeed the largest on earth. Because of their preference for grass, the Guarani Indians in South America gave them a much more appropriate name: Capybara, "Lord of the Grass". However, this also applies to female members of the family. But they don't care - in terms of size, they look down on the gentlemen ...
Guinea pigs - big as sheep
It's strange who belongs to a family: capybaras are related to guinea pigs. However, capybaras tower above their little relatives: They are up to 1.30 meters long, up to 60 centimeters high and can even weigh more than 70 kilos.
The homeland of capybaras is South America, which is where the guinea pigs also come from. There the large rodents inhabit almost all countries east of the Andes. The related species of Panama Capybaras still lives separately from them, namely a little further north: from Northern Columbia to Panama in Central America. They are a little smaller and darker.
Life between meadow and water
Capybaras are at home in wetlands, mangrove forests, and flooded grasslands - anywhere there is water and mud to roll around. For example in the Pantanal, the largest inland wetland on earth. It is located in the south of the Amazon basin in Brazil.
Capybaras feel very comfortable in the water. There they hang out during the day, gnawing here and there on a water plant. The rodents are perfectly equipped for a life on and in the water: Short webbed feet grow between the toes, and the ears, eyes and nose are so high up on the head that they can almost completely go to the diving station and still see everything.
At dusk they come ashore, where they graze and look for a sheltered place to sleep.
Why do they only eat their feces?
Sounds disgusting, but it's vital: Capybaras have to eat their feces in order not to starve. Because the grasses are difficult for them to digest, including aquatic plants, herbs or young tree bark, on which they otherwise feed. The solution: A capybara has to digest everything twice. So the first time it eats its feces, which are soft and mushy, again. The second time the whole thing is more digestible and the capybara can properly absorb the nutrients it needs.
When there is danger, they bark
Capybaras are sociable. They live in small or larger groups with six or even 20 conspecifics: females with their offspring, younger males - led by a weighty boss.
Of course, those who live in groups have to communicate. Researchers have observed that capybaras make very different sounds: They purr, click, whistle and grunt - and when danger threatens, the alarm is raised with loud barking. Mostly by the boss.
Enemy in sight? Everyone go into hiding immediately!
And then everyone runs off with big jumps - and immediately into the water. At least when they are grazing peacefully and a hunter is sneaking up on them. It can be a puma, an ocelot, jaguar or wild dog. In the water, capybaras are safe from land hunters, because they can swim and even dive very well - for up to five minutes. However, if a crocodile or anaconda lurks in the water, the rodents have to be faster ...
The "children of the grasses"
Young are born once a year - around 4 to 5 months after mating. Incidentally, it takes place in the water. The female is attracted by the male's extra strong odor. It flows out of the gland that sits like a hump on the furless nose.
Shortly after birth, the boys are fit for life: They are born completely hairy and have teeth with which they bite the grass immediately. The mother provides them with milk for about two months, after which they are completely on their own. There are usually four siblings per litter, but sometimes eight - or an only child is born.
Capybaras and humans
Capybaras are hunted for their skin and meat. Sometimes it is professional hunters who sell both in markets. Most of the time, however, people use the hunted animal for their own needs. In Argentina, for example, the leather is used to make jackets or saddles and bridles for horses.
Capybaras are not on the Red List of Endangered Species. However, no exact numbers are known of the Panama Capybaras.
Last updated: October 8, 2020
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