Capybara Literature

A capybara called Speak is a character in the comic The Tick. Click here, and here

Funny real-life capybara misadventures are related in chapter 6 of Three Tickets to Adventure by the late Gerald Durrell (1954). He tells the story of a capy he caught on a trip he made to collect animals for zoos in 1950. He also tells the same story in The New Noah, 1962.

An article we read that we felt compelled to illustrate with some primitive animation (click on the link in the paragraph).


"All year long, wild animals of all shapes, sizes and degrees of amphibianism sensibly make use of the road, an easy, tick-free route between forest and river.  Their behavior sometimes perplexes us. Take the capybaras.  Scarce during the dry season, once the savanna floods they are everywhere.  Or at least their tracks are, for the actual animals have been spotted just once or twice.  There are two strange things about their tracks:  They appear only at night, even though capybaras are active by day, and they always head in one direction.  This implies that the animals walk from the hill to the river and never come back again, as if we had some perpetual-capybara machine that pops out animals at night, and a mysterious creature that gobbles them up in the water.  I suppose we could put a radio-collar on one, but I would hate to lose a $300 piece of equipment to some slimy river monster."

Kirsten Silvius, Letter from Brazil, Wildlife Conservation Jan/Feb 1998

Capybara Nomenclature

"Apparently, most German writers (including the prestigious Brockhaus encyclopedia) refer to capybaras inappropriately as "water hogs" (Wasserschwein)."

"According to a recently published book entitled "Beneath the Canopy" (a collection of photographs from the Amazonian rain forest), Venezuelan Catholics are allowed to eat capybaras on Friday because they are considered "honorary fish."  The book is published by Chronicle Books; the photographs are by Kevin Schafer and the text by Downs Mathews.  See p. 40.  The book also mentions that the capybara's scientific name, Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris, translates as "water joy.""

Speaking of water hogs, the Latin scientific name of the capybara turns out to be a troublesome question. It is spelled inconsistently even in authoritative literature: either Hydrochoeris or Hydrochaeris. Spelled with o, it would translate to 'water pig'. Spelled with a it's 'water joy'. The former would seem to make more sense because the early European references to the animal called it a kind of pig, but Walker's Mammals goes with the a spelling following Husson (1978) The Mammals of Suriname, which tells us more than you might want to know about the issue:

"The Capybara has relatively late been recognized as belonging to the Rodentia. It was generally considered to be a kind of pig, as is indicated by the vernacular names Hog, Water Pig, Watervarken, Cochon d'eau, etc., and by the latin name Hydrochoeris. Even Linnaeus (1766: 103) placed it in the genus Sus. However, one year later, Pallas (1767: 18) correctly placed the species in the order Glires (=Rodentia) and mentioned it in the genus Cavia.
     A profound lack of uniforrnity still exists in the spelling of the family name, genus name and species name of the Capybara; even in modern literature one finds the names Hydrochoeridae and Hydrochoeris hydrochoeris. As Linnaens (1766: 103) clearly gives the species name as Sus Hydrochaeris, and Brunnich (1772: 44) the generic name as Hydrochaeris, the names Hydrochaeridae, Hydrochaeris and hydrochaeris have to be used, while Hydrochoeridae, Hydrochoeris and hydrochoeris must be considered erroneous spellings. Part of this confusion is caused by the fact that some authors accepted the generic name Hydrochoerus Brisson (1762: 80) as a valid name. As, however, Brisson's 1762 work is nothing but a new edition of his pre-Linnaean (1756) Regnum Animale, and moreover is not consistently binominal, it cannot be used for nomenclatural purposes and the names in this work are not available.
      The vernacular name Capybara is the name used by Marcgraf (1648: 230, as Capy-bara), the animal being so called by the natives near Pernambuco, Brazil. In Suriname the vernacular name Cabiai is given to the species by some Amerindian tribes, while the Negro-English (the Sranan-Tongo) name is Kapoewa.
        In the literature on Suriname mammals the scientific names Hydrochoerus capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, and Cavia capibara are often used to indicate the present species. "

So Linneaus called it Sus hydrochaeris, which gets both meanings into it because Sus is the genus of pigs, but of course we now know they are rodents, not pigs, so we can't use that name. Despite Husson's arguments, we've decided to go with the version used in some sources which has the o in the first part of the name and the a in the second, another way to get the fun of both translations.

More Capybara Literature

There is a book for kids about capybaras: Alexandria Manera, Capybaras. Raintree, Chicago Ill, 2003. In a series called Animals of the Rain Forest. Our friend Emilio Herrera (see below) is one of the consultants, and this page is one of the two Internet resources listed in the back.

For current scientific work on capybaras, Emilio Herrera is your man. Here's some of his publications, but for a up to date list see his web page here.

Herrera, E.A., 1997. Reproductive strategies of female capybaras: dry season gestations. Symposium of the Zoological Society of London 71 (en prensa)

Yáber M.C. y Herrera, E.A., 1994. Vigilance, group size and social status in capybaras. Animal Behaviour 48(12):1301-1307.

Borges, P.A., Domínguez, M.G. y Herrera, E.A., 1996. Digestive ecophysiology of capybaras. Journal of Comparative Physiology B 166(1):55-60

Herrera, E.A., 1985. Coprophagy in the capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris. Journal of Zoology (London), 217: 616-619.

Herrera, E.A. y Macdonald, D.W., 1987. Group stability and the structure of a capybara population. En: Mammal population studies (Ed.: Stephen Harris). Symposium of the Zoological Society of London 58:115-130.

Herrera, E.A, y Macdonald, D.W., 1989. Resource utilization and territoriality in group-living capybaras. Journal of Animal Ecology 58:667-679.

Herrera, E.A., 1992a. Size of testes and scent glands in capybaras, Hydrochaeris hydrochae-ris (Rodentia: Caviomorpha). Journal of Mammalogy 73(4):871-875.

Herrera, E.A., 1992b. Effect of the slaughter on the age structure and body size of a capybara population. ECOTROPICOS 5(2):20-25.

Herrera, E.A., 1992c. Growth and dispersal of capybaras, Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris, in the Llanos of Venezuela. Journal of Zoology (London) 228:307-316.

Herrera, E.A. y Macdonald, D.W. 1993. Aggression, dominance and mating success among capybara males. Behavioral Ecology 4(2):114-119.

Herrera, E.A. y Macdonald, D.W., 1994. The social significance of scent marking in capybaras. Journal of Mammalogy 75(2):410-415.

Herrera, E.A. y Macdonald, D.W, 1984. The capybara. En: Encyclopaedia of Mammals (Ed.: D.W. Macdonald). Pp 696-6-99. George Allen & Unwin, Londres.

The best is perhaps a book which is sadly out of print, in spanish and published in 1973 by Juhani Ojasti, entitled "Estudio biologico del chiguire o capibara" FONAIAP, Caracas, Venezuela.

Emilio Herrera
Depto. de Estudios Ambientales
Universidad Simon Bolivar
Apdo. 89.000 Caracas 1080-A
Fax; (582) 906 3064

Another quote I like that I can't find another spot for right now.

Husson (1978) , The Mammals of Suriname

The Capybara lives in troops (up to 20 individuals) or in family groups; it is active in the daytime as well as during the night. The food of the animals is vegetable, consisting of aquatic plants, roots, bark, etc. Older reports (e.g., Barrere, 1741: 160-161; Hartsinck, 1770: 22; Von Sack, 1821 (2): 193) that they eat fish, need confirmation. Already Quandt (1803: 204, footnote) doubted the correctness of the stories of the fish eating habits of the species. These stories probably originated from the peculiar fishy taste of the meat (see Teenstra, 1835 (2)412-413) combined with the aquatic habits of the species.
        The Capybara is easily kept in captivity; in Suriname some people keep this animal on their private property.
        Kappler (1887: 73-74) noted that in Suriname the species lives in groups of up to 20 animals and searches for food at night. Its droppings resemble "in Grosse, Form und Farbe den Oliven". He gave the weight of the animal as "uber 100 Pfund". The brothers Penard ("De Surinamer", 30 April 1905) stressed the semi-aquatic life of the species, mentioned already by several early authors, and remarked that the Capybara is an excellent swimmer and also progresses by walking under water over the bottom of lakes and rivers. Moreover, the brothers Penard noted that the animals love to roll in the mud and that on the land they are less agile than in the water. The Capybara is a conspicuous animal and cannot easily be confused with any other Suriname mammal. It is the largest living rodent; full-grown specimens have a total length of one metre or even more.

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