The Lesser Capybara is a large, semi-aquatic rodent, very closely related to the Capybara (H. hydrochaeris) found in the Amazon. It was recognized as a subspecies of the Capybara in 1912, and was raised to full species status in 1991. Hydrochoerus means “water hog” and like its larger cousin, Lesser Capybaras are found in a variety of habitats near water—marshes, ponds, lagoons, riversides—in tropical moist lowlands. They are found from central Panama through northwestern Colombia and western Venezuela. They live in family groups, usually from 10-30 members. Capybaras are true vegetarians, and feed on water plants and grasses. Similar to other semi-aquatic mammals like hippos, their eyes, ears and nostrils are located on the top of their head, so they can stay submerge almost completely under the water; they can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes to hide from predators. Capybaras have a scent gland on their nose called a “morrillo” (Spanish for “small hill”). Males’ scent glands are much larger and are used to determine dominance among other males. They are very vocal mammals and use a variety of barks, chirps, whistles, huffs and purrs to communicate. Lesser Capybaras are found commonly along the Chagres River near the Canopy Tower.
Rodents of unusual size: The two species of Capybara are the world’s largest rodents! Adult Lesser Capybaras grow up to a meter in length and weigh up to 30 kg (66 lbs)!