The capybara is the largest living rodent in the world! Their scientific name, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, comes from the Greek words “hydor” meaning water and “choiros” meaning pig. Native to South America, these oversized rodents are well adapted to life on land and in water. Capybaras can be found inhabiting flooded grasslands, swamps, as well as the banks of rivers and lakes. One can say capybaras were made to swim with their webbed feet and their wiry, quick-drying hair that’s perfectly suited for moving land and water frequently .
Capybaras are very social animals, living in groups ranging from 3 to 30 individuals ! They are very communicative, producing various types vocalizations. Similar to beavers, the front teeth of the capybara never stop growing . Capybaras must continually gnaw and chew on grasses and aquatic vegetation to keep their teeth size in check. Just like their close relatives, the guinea pigs, capybaras must eat their feces to get beneficial bacteria to help their stomach break down the fiber in their meals.
Today we share the chromosome-length assembly for the capybara. This is a $1K genome assembly with a contig n50 of 79 Kb and a scaffold n50 of 71 Mb. Check out Dudchenko et al., 2018 for procedure details. Thank you to Pop from the Houston Zoo for providing us with the sample to make this assembly possible! See Pop bonding with his keeper here!
Capybaras are legal to own as pets in some states in the US, and owning a capybara is a relatively recent trend in the pet world. This has already had some consequences: did you know that the state of Florida is dealing with a problem of invasive capybaras, most likely due to them escaping or being released by irresponsible owners?
Some may say that the capybara is basically an oversized guinea pig, but the genomics says otherwise. Just look at the many rearrangements between the two species! Check out our assembly page for the domestic guinea pig here.