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Capybaras: What are They?

Recently, on the social media app TikTok, a new trend has arisen about a certain rodent: the capybara.  Many TikTok users have noticed multiple capybara videos popping up constantly.  In this essay I will discuss what exactly is a capybara and why they are so interesting.

A capybara is, quite simply, part of the rodent family.  They belong to the genus Hydrochoerus which makes them related to rats, guinea pigs, and chinchillas. The capybara is also the biggest rodent, significantly outweighing all other rodents.  These rodents can potentially weigh up to 174 pounds and reach about four feet in length.  

These gentle giants have a flat snout, and short legs, and are surrounded by reddish-brown fur.  Despite looking quite soft and fluffy, capybaras actually have very rough and coarse fur, and it might feel like hugging a porcupine!

These giant rodents are also herbivores who love to eat watermelons and pumpkins.  The videos of capybaras eating these fruits are particularly what gave them their popularity in the first place.  Watermelons and pumpkins are not just for fun but also contain healthy nutrients for the capybaras.  Moreover,  watermelons contain a “great variety of vitamins and minerals and carbohydrates, it is easy to eat and digest.”  So, it is a win-win, a healthy snack for the capybaras and fun for the internet! 

Furthermore, these creatures have ever-growing teeth, like a lot of other rodents.  They use their big teeth to grind up grasses and reeds all along the riverbank.  For their teeth to not overgrow into their jaw, capybaras must eat up to eight pounds of food, so that their teeth can grind and grind.  Think of it like a cat’s toenails that keep growing, they need a scratching post for them to be a reasonable length.  

Although this next fact might be a little too much information, it is a very common action that rodents do: eat their own waste!  Their excrement contains many vitamins and beneficial bacteria that help their stomachs break down the fiber from all the grasses.  

Their love of these delicious snacks is not the only interesting thing about capybaras; they also love water!  Capybaras are considered “semi-aquatic” and always live along banks and rivers.  Water is everything for a capybara: they eat water plants, use it to escape from danger, and can even stay underwater for up to five minutes!  This is unlike many other rodents, which wish to avoid water for fear of drowning.

Capybaras are found all over South America, mostly in remote areas in Venezuela and Argentina.  In the past few decades, capybaras have been captured and dispersed all over the world in different zoos.  Although it can be beneficial that capybaras are now away from predators, a lot of times it is unnatural for them to be in a zoo.  Capybaras love to herd, and many times if there is one capybara, there are twenty more somewhere else.  Zoos cannot maintain all these capybaras, so typically there are only two or three in one enclosure. 

 It is also disrupting the capybara’s natural habitat because there are no rivers or lakes in a zoo.  Sure, a small pond can be built, but that is not the same thing as a giant body of water.  Capybaras are not able to go for long languid swims or use the mud to cool off in the warmer months.  Since capybaras are so interesting and different, they draw in so many viewers that wish to see them.  This simple fact makes it impossible for zoos to release their capybaras into the wild.  

As I said previously, zoos protect capybaras from predators, those predators being mainly jaguars and humans.  Jaguars and capybaras occupy much of the same land, and since the jaguar is fiercer, bigger, and stronger, it is easy for them to claim capybara land as their own.  This is just the circle of life, and, in the long run, capybaras are lucky that they do not have more predators.  The second predator lurking is the human!  Humans hunt capybaras for their meat and hide, which is then made into leather.  In recent years, humans have begun to “farm” capybaras to get them easier and quicker.  Capybaras stand no chance against both of these predators, based on their speed and stature, and the only hope of survival is their ability to go underwater.

All in all, capybaras are some of the most interesting and unique creatures in the world!  Their big flat face, small ears, and swimming ability make them like no other rodent on earth.  Their love of eating big fruits produces the kind of videos that are currently popping up all over social media.  Viewers love to watch these gentle giants consume watermelons and pumpkins in a frenzied fashion.  Capybaras are the new “it” animal in the animal kingdom and next time a video of them pops up on social media, give it a like to show your love!

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