Are Capybaras Friendly or Dangerous?

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Published: February 9, 2023
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With their stoic expressions and large expressive eyes, capybaras are some of the most charming animals you’ll ever see. Not only are they adorable, but these large and social animals are also admired worldwide for their cute and friendly demeanor. But are these beloved rodents actually as harmless as they appear? Are capybaras friendly or dangerous? Let’s take a closer look and explore the truth about the world’s largest rodent!

Capybara Teeth - Incisor

With their stoic expressions and large expressive eyes,

capybaras

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are some of the most charming animals you’ll ever see.

©Ian Peter Morton/Shutterstock.com

What is a Capybara?

Hailing from the regions of Central and South America, the capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Some can weigh up to 150 pounds! Then again, these massive rodents don’t really look like rodents at all — perhaps more like giant guinea pigs. Capybaras are herbivores who eat grasses, aquatic plants, fruits, seeds, and nuts. In fact, “capybara” comes from a complex Tupi word that means “slender leaf eater”. 

These large plant-eating rodents live all over Central and South America (except for in the country of Chile). They spend their lives basking in and near rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, ponds, and other flooded areas. Capybaras are semiaquatic mammals with webbed feet who love being in and around water. In fact, they spend nearly 50% of their lives in the water! These massive furry water rodents can stay completely submerged underwater for up to five minutes at a time. 

Capybaras are semiaquatic mammals with webbed feet who love being in and around water.

©Andrew M. Allport/Shutterstock.com

Are Capybaras Friendly or Dangerous?

Overall, capybaras are very friendly animals and are not dangerous. In fact, they are considered the friendliest animal on the planet! Capybaras are docile and peaceful animals, and not much seems to bother them. These adorable creatures are extremely social and live together in large herds of 10 to 20 animals on average. Capybaras are family-oriented and spend time together playing, socializing, cuddling, and grooming one another. 

Female capybaras, in particular, are very compassionate and caring, not only to other capybaras but to other species as well. In fact, capybaras sometimes “adopt” other animals and foster them until they are old enough to take care of themselves! 

Even when they do not “adopt” other animals, capybaras can commonly be seen napping alongside the water’s edge with turtles, ducks, birds, and even monkeys. In captivity, capybaras often make friends with cats and dogs as well. Believe it or not, it is not all that uncommon for a capybara to even be seen near or with predators like crocodiles or alligators!

Sometimes capybaras even act as animal taxis, allowing smaller animals to ride on their backs! It’s not uncommon to see a bird perched calmly on top of a capybara. Yellow-headed caracaras, in particular, are quite fond of capybaras. They even act as cleaning crews, picking off ticks and other bugs from the capybaras’ fur. Researchers have observed capybaras sprawling out and exposing sores and other areas on their bodies to the birds, who quickly come in and take care of any pesky bugs. 

Other animals seem particularly fond of capybaras, possibly because these gentle giants are so chill — it takes a lot to bother a capybara, after all. These social butterflies are also quite chatty creatures, frequently chirping, barking, and squeaking to one another while hanging out with their friends and family. Capybaras form close-knit bonds with their herds and can be quite territorial toward other groups, and very protective of their own.

Swimming Capybara, ArgentinaThese massive furry water rodents can stay completely submerged underwater for up to five minutes at a time.

©Carla Antonini / Creative Commons

Do Capybaras Bite?

Capybaras may be the friendliest animals out there, but that does not mean that a large capybara couldn’t cause some damage if it really wanted to. You see, like other rodents, capybaras also have some pretty gnarly incisors that continuously grow throughout their lifetime. These large front teeth are also kept sharp as they constantly chew on things like tree bark. Their teeth are designed to assist in their plant-based diet, grinding up plants to make them easier to swallow and digest. Because of this, capybaras also have incredible jaw strength. 

Don’t worry though, capybaras don’t run around looking for something to bite — they rarely bite at all! However, they still can bite if provoked. Capybaras are quite territorial, and if they feel threatened they can use those impressive teeth to defend what is theirs. 

Yellow-headed caracara (milvago chimachima) and Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), Los Lianos in Venezuela

Sometimes capybaras even act as animal taxis, allowing smaller animals to ride on their backs!

©iStock.com/slowmotiongli

Staying Safe with Capybaras

To be on the safe side, here are some tips on how to tell if a capybara is going to bite:

  • When they are unhappy or feel threatened, a capybara may make aggressive sounds, such as growling. In addition, they can sound an alarm call to warn their friends and family that there is danger nearby.
  • If the perceived threat continues, a capybara will stand their ground and won’t back down.
  • If a capybara is unhappy or doesn’t want to be bothered, it may turn its head away from you. 

If you see a capybara do any of these things, be sure to leave it alone and back away slowly. 

Now, it is extremely rare for a capybara to become agitated enough to try to bite, but of course, there is always a chance that this could happen. It’s best to keep an eye on the behavior of any capybaras near you, and never try to get close to or touch a capybara if they are eating, sleeping, or if they are with their babies. These are some of their most vulnerable moments, so they will be more on their guard than usual. Capybaras can also be more touchy and aggressive because of this vulnerability, especially a mother capybara and her babies. Like many other types of mammals (including humans), you should never get in between a mom and her babies!

Do Capybaras Carry Dangerous Diseases?

Although capybaras are not dangerous, they can carry diseases that can be dangerous.  Capybaras have been known to carry certain diseases that can be transmitted to humans and other animals who come into contact with the urine, feces, or saliva of infected animals. For example, capybaras in rural areas of the Amazon have been found to carry leptospirosis

Capybara family swimming in a lake in Brazil

Capybaras are family-oriented and spend time together playing, socializing, cuddling, and grooming one another.

©iStock.com/Yuina Takase

Do Capybaras Make Good Pets?

With their amiable personalities and adorable appearance, you might be wondering whether or not a capybara would make a good pet. Some people do keep these gentle giants as pets, but they are not the easiest animals to care for. In addition, it is not legal to keep capybaras in many areas. 

Capybaras are still wild animals, and they have many special needs and requirements to be healthy and happy. While a pet capybara may love to snuggle up next to their favorite human, it will also need specialized food, housing, lots of outdoor space for grazing, and plenty of water to swim in. Yep, if you’re going to keep a capybara in your home, that sweet semiaquatic mammal is going to need their own swimming pool! And you’ll need to be sure to keep it well-cared for so that your capybara does not get sick from the water.

Since capybaras are such social butterflies, it is never a good idea to keep just one capybara as a pet — you need at least two. These sweet and social creatures need to be with other animals nearly all day every day and are prone to easily becoming depressed and lonely. In addition, they are very sensitive animals and can be easily hurt if left alone or punished. 

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Henner Damke/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does a capybara bite hurt?

Yes! A bite from a capybara can be extremely painful. These animals are the largest rodents in the world and have large, sharp incisors. In addition, they have very strong jaw muscles. You definitely don’t want to get bit by a capybara!

Are capybaras fast?

Although capybaras are some of the most chill animals on the planet, these large rodents can move quite fast on land. They can run up to 21 miles per hour!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.