Although capybaras were once thought to be a type of pig, they are in fact the world’s largest living rodents.
They are typically the same size as a large dog, ranging from 39 to 51 inches long and around 20 inches tall. Built almost like a barrel with legs, they have light brown, long shaggy fur, webbed feet, and no tail.
They are often considered the friendliest wild animal, thanks to their calm and sociable nature.
Capybaras live near ponds, riverbanks, and marshes in South America. They have dry skin and need a swimming hole nearby to keep them healthy.
These semi-aquatic mammals are excellent swimmers who can hold their breath for up to five minutes underwater. This is helpful when they need to hide underwater from predators.
A capybara’s ears, eyes, and nostrils are all found close to the top of their heads. This lets them only lift those parts above water while the rest of their body remains hidden under the surface.
Capybaras have long, sharp teeth that they use to graze on water plants and grasses, and their teeth keep growing continuously to make up for the wear and tear of eating tough grasses and aquatic plants.
The capybara, or Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, is closely related to guinea pigs and rock cavies. There are also many other animals that look similar to capybaras, or that share similar behavior.
Here is a list of the 12 animals like capybaras:
- Rock Cavy
- Guinea Pig
- African Pygmy Hippopotamus
- Patagonian Mara
- Long-tailed Chinchilla
- Lowland Paca
1. Rock Cavy
Scientific name: Kerodon rupestris
Quick summary: A close relative of the capybara that is only found in Brazil.
The rock cavy is quite a large rodent that can weigh up to 2.2 lb. They are a member of the Caviidae family, a group of rodents native to South America that also includes capybaras.
Like other cavy species, the rock cavy doesn’t have a tail. Their teeth also grow continuously, and they are herbivores that eat the vegetation that grows where they live.
Rock cavies are only found in Brazil and live in dry, rocky areas. Although their habitat is different from that of their capybara cousins, these cute animals share their calm and sweet nature.
The average lifespan of a rock cavy is 3 to 4 years in the wild, but they can live for up to 8 years in captivity.
2. Guinea Pig
Scientific name: Cavia porcellus
Quick summary: A popular domestic animal closely related to the capybara.
The guinea pig is one of the world’s most popular pets, and there are around 13 different breeds. Guinea pigs belong to the Caviidae family along with rock cavies and capybaras.
It’s thought that these cute little animals were first domesticated by the Incas more than 3,000 years ago.
Guinea pigs have a friendly, docile nature like their capybara relatives, and are happy to be handled by their owners.
Although they are much smaller than a capybara, they are still larger than many rodents and measure between 8 and 10 inches in length.
A guinea pig’s natural diet is grass. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their life and are suited for grinding down plant matter.
3. African Pygmy Hippopotamus
Scientific name: Choeropsis liberiensis
Quick summary: A semi-aquatic animal with many features similar to a capybara.
The African pygmy hippopotamus is a semiaquatic animal that lives in a swampy tropical forest habitat in West Africa.
Although they belong to the Hippopotamidae family, they share many similarities with capybaras and are around the same size.
Pygmy hippos and capybaras both have heavy-set bodies with similar height-to-length ratios. They have small, round ears, no tails, and a short neck, and their ears, eyes, and nostrils are found close to the top of their head.
When a pygmy hippo is scared it will seek refuge in the water. They are superb swimmers and can stay underwater for more than 5 minutes.
4. Patagonian Mara
Scientific name: Dolichotis patagonum
Quick summary: A close relative of the capybara native to Argentina.
Patagonian maras are a rodent native to Argentina. Their long ears and legs look like a hare, but their faces are similar to their close relative, the capybara.
They weigh between 16 to 20 pounds and are the fourth-largest rodent in the world.
Maras spend more than one-third of their day grazing, and their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. Their long limbs are built for running and they can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour when threatened or alarmed.
Habitat destruction for hunting and agriculture has meant maras have declined in population in some areas.
5. Long-tailed Chinchilla
Scientific name: Chinchilla lanigera
Quick summary: A cute relative of the capybara that is sometimes kept as a pet.
The long-tailed chinchilla is an adorable animal classified as a rodent, and they are one of the biggest in its species.
They have become increasingly popular as pets because of their intelligent personalities and friendly, sociable behaviors.
These relatives of the capybara grow to 10-12 inches in height and can live up to 20 years in captivity. They are famous for their beautiful, thick fur that keeps them warm in the Andes mountain range where they are found in the wild.
Although they are not aquatic animals, their habitats are close to or include water.
Scientific name: Myocastor coypus
Quick summary: A large semi-aquatic rodent native to South America.
The nutria (also known as the coypu) is a semi-aquatic animal that is more agile on water than on land. These web-footed rodents weigh 15 to 22 pounds and have a body length of 16 to 24 inches.
Nutrias live in burrows or nests close to the water and feed on river plant stems. They are a distant relative of capybaras, and are strong swimmers who can stay submerged for up to 5 minutes.
Nutrias are sociable animals and live in large colonies. They were once only found in southern South America, but have since been transplanted around the world by fur farmers.
Scientific name: Dasyprocta punctata
Quick summary: A rodent from South America with incredibly sharp teeth.
The agouti is a rodent from Central and South American rainforests that looks like a large guinea pig or a small capybara. They are excellent swimmers who love to take a dip in a pool of water.
Adult agoutis can be up to 24 inches in length and 8.8 lbs in weight.
Agoutis have sharp incisors at the front of the mouth that grow throughout their lifetime. They are the only animals who can crack open the hard outside shell of a Brazil nut, and play an important role in the survival of Brazil nut trees.
8. Lowland Paca
Scientific name: Cuniculus paca
Quick summary: An excellent swimmer related to capybaras.
Lowland pacas are large rodents found in tropical and subtropical America. They are related to guinea pigs, agoutis, and capybaras.
Lowland pacas are superb swimmers and can stay submerged for several minutes at a time. Like capybaras, if they are threatened they often flee to the water for safety.
These rodents weigh between 13 and 30 pounds with males slightly larger than females.
Pacas are herbivores who like to feast on nuts, fruits, roots, leaves, tubers, stems, and seeds. They play an important role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds.
Scientific name: Castor canadensis
Quick summary: The second-largest rodent in the world.
Beavers are semi-aquatic creatures with a body length of 25 to 29 inches, and are the second-largest rodent in the world. They are the largest rodent in North America, and old beavers can weigh up to 110 pounds.
Beavers have brown fur and webbed feet like capybaras, and are excellent swimmers. They can swim at speeds of up to five miles an hour and can hold their breath underwater for up to fifteen minutes.
These rodents have an extra pair of transparent eyelids which help them see clearly underwater. Unlike capybaras, they have large tails that averages a foot in length.
They are herbivorous, eating tree bark, grasses, and aquatic plants. They also chew down trees and vegetation for building materials to build dams and lodges.
Scientific name: Dinomys branickii
Quick summary: A very rare, large rodent indigenous to South America.
The pacarana is a rare rodent descended from gigantic prehistoric rodents that roamed South American forests 40 million years ago. Today, the pacarana is the third largest rodent after the capybara and the beaver.
With short ears, small eyes and a blunt snout the pacarana looks similar to a capybara and also resembles a large guinea pig. These large rodents can weigh over 30 pounds.
When it comes to activity, these animals are curious, extremely friendly, and willing to approach humans. They will sometimes rub against people’s legs and behave in the same manner as a pet cat.
Scientific name: Capromyidae
Quick summary: Cavy-like rodents that live in the Caribbean islands.
Hutias are fairly large, cavy-like rodents that inhabit the Caribbean islands. Most species are restricted to Hispaniola and Cuba.
These fairly large rodents are stout and short-limbed with a large head and small eyes. The largest hutia is the Desmarest’s Cuban hutia which weighs up to 19 pounds and is the size of a raccoon.
Hutias eat leaves, stems, roots, and tubers, and some species also eat small vertebrates. They are not aquatic animals but can be found along coasts and in swamp forests, as well as in rocky, mountainous habitats.
Scientific name: Ondatra zibethicus
Quick summary: Semi-aquatic rodents that spend a lot of time in the water.
Muskrats are smaller than capybaras with a body length of 8-10 inches.
These semi-aquatic rodents are covered with brown, short fur and spend most of their time in the water. They can swim underwater for up 17 minutes and mostly live in wetlands, near rivers, ponds, or lakes.
They are found in most of the United States and Canada and in a small area of northern Mexico. Muskrats were introduced to Europe in the 20th century and have since become an invasive species.
Capybaras are closely related to several other rodents. Some of these animals – such as guinea pigs and chinchillas – live with us as pets, and others live in the wild.
They are the largest rodents on our planet, but also share similarities with animals outside of the rodent family, such as pygmy hippos. They also share characteristics with many semi-aquatic animals, including agoutis and beavers.