Feeding ecology and diet

Capybaras invest a great deal of their time in feeding behavior. In Brazil, the states of Minas Gerais and Goias are

A capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) mother nursing her young. (Photo by Erwin and Peggy Bauer. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
Capybaras (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) live in large groups. (Photo by Erwin and Peggy Bauer. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

separated by a river. People living in two small villages, of the river, are rivals. The villagers on the Minas Gerais border, where there are grassland fields, say that Goiâs is so bad that capybaras prefer to feed on their side. The villagers in Goiâs claim that Minas Gerais may have some good food but Goiâs is a nicer place to live, since the capybaras cross the river to sleep there.

Apart from the beliefs of human rivals, capybara ranging behavior is based on a daily need for food and shelter. The Portuguese priest José de Anchieta, traveling through Brazil in 1560, wrote about the animals named by indigenous people as "capivaras," which means "herb feeders." Another Portuguese explorer, Fernâo Cardim, wrote in 1584, about the "water pigs" known as capivaras that eat herbs and fruits found along the rivers.

Capybaras are very selective in food items they prefer. The diet composition varies from the dry season, when more pasture is available, to the flooding season, when they can feed upon floating plants. Preferred food items, such as protein rich grasses, tend to be more seasonal than poorer food items. During the dry season, natural pasture in lower areas is abundant and is preferred by capybaras. Capybaras may re-ingest their own fresh feces (coprophagy) in order to maximize the absorption of nutrients.

Young are precocious, travel on the back of their parents when they swim, forage on grasses with few days of age, and suckle their mother or other lactating female in their social group.

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