Unless you’ve been living under a rock — in which case, welcome — you’ve probably seen some supremely chill animals that look like coconut dogs come along your feed. This nonchalant lil’ dude is a capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris. Neat!
Capybaras are the largest extant rodents, with a lifespan of eight to 10 years. They are a part of the cavy family, which also includes guinea pigs. Their binomial taxonomy comes from the Greek words hydro (water) and choiros (hog). As this name suggests, capybaras enjoy the water, with webbed skin between their lil’ toes to aid swimming.
They are adept on land as well. The name capybara is derived from the Tupi language — an indigenous language spoken in Brazil — and is said to mean “master of the grasses.” Capybaras are herbivores, but are also known to eat their own feces as a digestive aid. Gross!
These wet hogs are largely found in South America, typically near bodies of freshwater. Capybaras have their eyes, ears and nostrils all on top of their head, which contributes to their distinctly adorable appearance and also aids them underwater, ensuring that their senses are unimpaired; It’s like a built-in snorkel.
Just like many of us, capybaras are total party animals. These extroverted rodents are typically seen in groups of 10 to 20, trotting around in herds. Groups consist of two to four males and four to seven females, with offspring forming the rest of the herd. There is a dominance hierarchy seen in the males, with more dominant males attempting to mate with more of the females, albeit with variable success. The group structure is key for capybaras — groups typically don’t accept strangers, and individuals outside a herd have a much harder go of it.
Thanks to some divine benevolence, capybaras are almost always gentle around humans (the Daily Cardinal does not advise that you personally test this trait).
Interestingly, there is a small sect of capybaras in Florida, despite the animals being endemic to South America. Experts theorize that this offshoot population is the result of capybaras escaping from a conservancy in North-Central Florida and breeding quickly. Those sly (coconut) dogs!
Fortunately for all us Wisconsinites, you don’t need to go to Florida to get a glimpse of these creatures, nor do you have to worry about affording a trip to the wonderful continent of South America. Vilas Zoo in Madison houses capybaras that you can see for free!