The capybara is a fish. This may take some explaining...

Before the 1970s Vatican II Council, members of the Roman Catholic Church were not allowed to eat meat during Lent. Nowadays, meat is only restricted on Fridays during Lent. Now, the one thing you must be aware of is that fish is not meat. The Bible predates modern categories of animals, and meat does not imply muscle. So it is perfectly acceptable to eat fish during Lent.

In regions of South America, there is an animal, called a capybara, admirably defined in the other write-ups in this section. In the 1600s, for a particular group of Roman Catholics, the capybara was their primary food source. They really didn't have much else to eat, so giving up meat during Lent was a serious issue. It was so serious that the Pope in Rome declared, by papal authority, that the capybara was a fish. So let it be written, so let it be done.

The Capybara is also a nifty piece of dedicated DSP hardware used for realtime music synthesis and processing. It consists of a big box full of memory, Motorola 56k family DSPs, and some interfacing hardware. It is primarily intended to run programs created with the also-nifty Kyma programming language.

Both Kyma and the Capybara were created by the Symbolic Sound Corporation.

The capybara is the world's largest extant rodent, native to Central and South America (from Panama to northern Argentina). They are about two feet tall at the shoulder, three to four feet long and can weigh up to 100 pounds. Their scientific name (Hydrochoerus hydrochoerus), from the latin meaning 'water pig', is particularly descriptive. The common name, capybara, is from the language of the Guarani and means 'Master of the grasses'.

General biology and behaviour

Capybaras live near and in the water, and have evolved partially webbed feet to help them swim. It is so comfortable in the water that capybaras have even been observed to sleep while in the water, with only their noses breaking the surface of the water. They feed on aquatic and shoreline vegetation, particularly grasses. They will also feed upon fruits when they are available.

Capybaras are not sexually dimorphic, and the only way to differentiate a male from a female is by the presence of teats or morillos, their scent glands (which are more prominent in the males). These scent glands are located on the snout, and these animals use the morrillo, along with their anal scent glands, to mark their territories.

They are social animals, and continually communicate with one another by purring and grunting. They tend to remain in small groups of about 10 animals. These groups are of mixed sex, and young males (who are solitary) often expend considerable effort to join with established groups in order to have a chance to reproduce.

Copulation takes place, like most of the animals' life, in the water. Gestation time is roughly 150 days, and prior to giving birth the female will separate from the social group. Females give birth to, on average, four pups. After three or four days, the young and the mother rejoin the social group. Very quickly, the young begin to feed on grass, and will continue to suckle for months. Interestingly enough, the young will suckle from any lactating female, not just their mother. Young grow quickly, reaching sexual maturity in 15 months.

The capybara is an important food resource for many large predators in South America. The young are eaten by vultures, wild dogs, caimans, foxes, anacondas, ocelots and jaguars. The caiman, anaconda and jaguar will also hunt adult capybaras. When a predator is detected, the adults will bark a warning to one another, and rush into the water. Once in the water, the adults gather into a circle, facing out and the young are herded into the center. This behaviour is similar to that of the musk ox.

Conservation status

The capybara, as most rodents, reproduce very rapidly and thus are generally not easily extirpated. However, they do rely on forested areas with clean water for their survival, and thus habitat destruction takes its toll. Despite this, the capybara is considered to be in very good shape as a species; it is not classified by CITES or the IUCN as being threatened.

Importance to humans

The capybara is consumed by the local populations in South America. Their flesh is a white meat similar to pork, and people have tried to produce sausages and chops, but the most popular mode of consumption is dried or salted. In Venezuela more than 400 tons are sold annually (as of 1991). There is some interest in trying to raise the animals for food, especially given their tame nature. Even more attractive is the fact that while capybaras and cattle share a food resource, they do not overlap in space as the capybaras must remain in or near the water. Thus some ranchers are experimenting with the idea of raising the two species together. An added benefit is the fact that the pelt of the capybara is also marketed in South America.

Given their tame character, capybaras are also kept as pets. In fact, if you search online, you can surely find web sites advertising companies which will sell you your very own giant rodent.


Order: Rodentia
Infraorder: Hystricomorpha
Family: Hydrochoeridae
Genus: Hydrochoerus
Species: hydrochoerus
The capybara is the only living species of the family Hydrochoeridae, but historically there were even larger members of the species.
Information culled from, among other places, ...

Ca`py*ba"ra (?), n. [Sp. capibara, fr. the native name.] Zool.

A large South American rodent (Hydrochaerus capybara) Living on the margins of lakes and rivers. It is the largest extant rodent, being about three feet long, and half that in height. It somewhat resembles the Guinea pig, to which it is related; -- called also cabiai and water hog.


© Webster 1913.

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