We all know that rodents are some of the smallest mammals in the world. But did you know that there is one type of rodent that is actually bigger than some dogs and cats? That’s right; we’re talking about capybaras! There’s no question that these large rodents are charming creatures. With their endearing eyes, furry faces, and squat, stocky bodies, it’s hard not to fall in love with these gentle giants of the rodent world. But just how big are they? Are capybaras the biggest rodents in the world? Let’s take a look!
How Big Are Rodents?
Rodents are one of the most widespread mammal groups in the world, adapted to every climate and almost every continent (except for Antarctica). These adaptable critters can live just about anywhere, from scorching hot deserts to burrows beneath the freezing snow.
Today, there are more than 2,000 different species of rodents living on the earth! They are mammals classified in the order Rodentia, which comes from a Latin word that means “to gnaw.” All rodents share one common feature: a pair of incisors (teeth) in their lower jaws and a pair in their upper jaws that continuously grow throughout their lifetimes.
Although this expansive rodent family includes many shapes and sizes of animals, you’re probably most familiar with some of its smaller members, like gerbils, squirrels, guinea pigs, rats, and mice. Mice are some of the smallest rodents in the world and also the most common. The house mouse (Mus musculus), for example, is one of the most common types and only grows around three to four inches long with a two- to four-inch-long tail. Capybaras, a South American species of rodent, of course, are quite a bit bigger than their tiny mouse cousins.
Are Capybaras the Biggest Rodents in the World?
Yes, capybaras are the biggest rodents in the world! These gargantuan rodents weigh in at an average of 65-150 pounds. They’re also the largest members of the family Caviidae, which includes guinea pigs, agoutis, and chinchillas. Fully grown adult capybaras can reach lengths of four feet from nose to tail and stand up to two and a half feet tall at the shoulder.
There is also a second, slightly smaller species of capybara: the lesser capybara, which averages 62-100 pounds. So not quite as big, but certainly not small. In fact, the lesser capybara is the third largest rodent on the earth today, just behind the North American beaver, which averages 110 pounds.
However, capybaras are not the largest rodents to ever walk the earth, although they are pretty close. That title belongs to the giant pacarana (Josephoartigasia monesi). The skull of a giant pacarana is one and three-quarters feet long, around the size of a beef cow skull. Estimates suggest that its body could have been up to eight feet in length and weigh over 1,000 pounds!
What Do Capybaras Look Like?
Capybaras are brown or reddish in color, with short, dense fur. They also have short, stout legs and webbed toes that help them swim (yes, capybaras are excellent swimmers!). Capybaras have stout bodies and square heads, and their ears and tails are relatively small. They can grow to be around four feet long and over two feet tall at the shoulder. As we mentioned before, they can also weigh up to 150 pounds!
Interestingly, capybaras are often described as being “semi-aquatic” because they spend so much time in the water. They’re known to be excellent swimmers and can even hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes! When they’re not taking a dip, capybaras can usually be found grazing on grasses and aquatic plants near lakes, rivers, and streams.
The lesser capybara doesn’t look all that different from its larger counterpart at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, there are some key differences. For one thing, as you might have guessed from its name, this smaller capybara is smaller than the regular capybara. In fact, it’s about half the size, weighing in at only 30-100 pounds. These little capybaras also have a tendency to be more brown in color than regular capybaras, with patches of white or yellow on their fur.
Finally, while regular capybaras have somewhat hairless noses, lesser capybaras have hairy noses like their other rodent cousins. This combination of features makes this smaller capybara look somewhat like a giant guinea pig. In fact, they’re often kept as pets for this very reason.
Do Capybaras Make Good Pets?
This is a tricky question, as capybaras are not typically considered to be good pets. They are very social animals and do best when they are around other capybaras. They also require a lot of space to roam and plenty of access to water. And, of course, as the largest rodents in the world, they definitely need a lot of space! If you’re thinking about getting a capybara as a pet, make sure you do your research first!
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- Oxford Academic, Available here: https://academic.oup.com/mbe/article/38/5/1715/5970469