Posted by: Rob Viens | August 15, 2012

Stalking the Wild Mega-Rodent

“Back in the saddle again”, on August 15th, Darwin was in his element – collecting bugs, lizards and large rodents.  His prize for the day – a capybara:

“As the boat was landing me at the Mount, we surprised a large Cabra or Capincha on the rocks. After a long & animated chace in a little bay I succeeded in shooting it through the head with a ball.— These animals abound in the Orinoco & are not uncommon here, but from their shyness & powers of swimming & diving are difficult to be obtained.— It is like in its structure a large guinea-pig; in its habits a water rat.— it weighed 98 pounds.— Having sent my game on board in triumph, I collected great numbers of different animals: some beautiful snakes & lizards & beetles. Under stones were several scorpions about 2 inches long; when pressed by a stick to the ground, they struck it with their stings with such force as very distinctly to be heard.” (Aug 15)

Capybara
(from Wikipedia Commons)

The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), or “water pig”, is the world’s largest rodent . They are found throughout a large part of South America, although the Rio de la Plata is about at the southern end of their range. They can grow to over 1.3 meters (~4.5 feet) long and weigh upwards of 90 kg (200 lbs). Capybara are herbivores – mainly grazers feeding off aquatic plants and grasses.

They are primarily found in regions that contain or are near water, and are actually quite good swimmers (it’s one of the ways they avoid predators). In fact, they have evolved several adaptations to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, including webbed feet, the ability to stay submerged for up to 5 minutes, and having their eyes, ears and nose on the top of their head (to keep them above water when they are swimming).

Like all rodents, their front teeth (incisors) never stop growing.  And like mice and rats, they have to keep chewing on things to wear them down (in the case of capybara, that would be tough grasses). Though to be fair it is really the other way around – having ones teeth grow constantly is an adaptation to eating food that wears you teeth down.  Otherwise, they’d lose their teeth early in life and not be able to eat (i.e., die).

Capybara
(from Wikipedia Commons)

I bet you didn’t know (I didn’t) – capybara cannot synthesize Vitamin C and can actually get scurvy. In some parts of the world they are hunted or raised for their meat, and strangely, in a few places it is fair game for Catholics to consume them during Lent (because they are aquatic).  I wonder if capybara on a stick is available during carnival?

Okay, these capybara are in a zoo, but I wanted to find a video that included their vocalizations.  So here is one posted by neighboringwild on YouTube.

Capybara are social animals, often gathering in large groups and communicating with one another through the whistles and chirps you hear in the video.

Meanwhile, the HMS Druid had returned from its trip to mission to strong arm an apology out of the Argentinean government (see A Good Man Goes to War…sort of):

“The Druid has returned from Buenos Ayres & brought from its government a long apology for the insult offered to us.— The Captain of the Guard-ship was immediately arrested & it was left to the British consuls choice whether he should any longer retain his commission.” (Aug 15)

I believe that is what we call mission accomplished! (RJV)

PS – Explore more on the Capybara Page.

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Responses

  1. My mind is again stretched by Darwin’s diary and Rob’s commentary. This time, I’m trying to imagine a rodent that’s bigger than I am…..

    • I never really thought about it like that – kinda frightening 🙂

  2. I’ve nominated you the Beautiful Blogger Award
    http://mybotanicalgarden.wordpress.com/

    • Thanks Tamara – I appreciate the recognition! It means a lot coming from someone with such a great site.

      • Well, I believe we do all try to have relevant, good posts.
        Which is not always easy as the blogging time comes when all the rest is done-at least by me….On the other hand reading what others think and post is always thrilling-I’ve never thought I would travel with Darwin or Fitz Roy 😉

  3. […] agouti is actually a rodent, like the capybara Darwin encountered last (see Stalking the Wild Mega-Rodent). These members of the genus Dasyprocta are found in the New World, particularly in parts of […]

  4. […] Capybara and Coypu (or Nutria) (see Stalking the Wild Mega-Rodent) […]


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