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The Verge Review of Animals: the capybara

Super-sized rodents from Brazil

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / Getty Images

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

New Yorkers are a soft bunch. Yeah, I said it: soft. We shudder at the notion of a pizza-carrying rat or a mouse scurrying across our living room — animals that unquestionably are even more terrified of us than we are of them. We tell war stories of the "cat-sized" rodent we saw ambling down 34th Street the other day, presumably looking for its next victim. That’s a big rat!

You needn’t be terrified of these gentle giants

Folks, let me tell you: get over it. South of the border, there is a rodent so large, you could fit 150 rats inside of it.

Meet the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), South America’s — and, indeed, the world’s — largest rodent. You needn’t be terrified of these gentle giants, though. Consider these beasts the cordial, smooth-talking ambassadors of the rodent world.

Capybaras, which can push 150 pounds or more when fully grown, spend their lives in groups of a dozen or two while hanging out in the Brazilian countryside, munching on grass and nursing each other’s babies, which are somehow even more adorable than the adults. They like to be near water (in fact, they like water so much that they have sex in it). A vocal and social species, capybaras bark, sing, and chirp at one another. And while rats have no chill whatsoever, capys have nothing but chill.

Seriously. Sometimes, monkeys ride them, just for funsies.

capybara monkey
(KAZUHIRO NOGI / Getty Images)

They’re more than just human-sized bags of chill, though; capybaras are multi-faceted animals with all sorts of tricks up their hairy sleeves. In the wild, capybaras have a biometric authentication system more advanced, secure, and highly integrated than anything you’ve got on your iPhone or your Android device: they feature big, bulbous scent glands on their snouts called "morillos," and they can take ownership of something simply by rubbing their morillo on it. Even other capybaras! If you like that boy you’re seeing and you’re a capybara, you don’t put a ring on it — you put your morillo on it. They’ve got more scent glands around back, so if the morillo doesn’t work, they can just poop or rub their butt in the right place, whatever the situation calls for.

Many parts of the world allow capys as pets

Capys are also miniature grocery stores; some South American peoples use basically every part of them and eat the meat, which doesn’t sound good, but then again, I’ve never eaten one. (The Catholic Church once famously declared capybaras fish so they could be eaten during Lent, a time when meat consumption is traditionally disallowed.)

But what good is an animal that you can only hunt or see in a zoo, really? What’s the function of a creature that you can’t hug and love? Well, you don’t need to appreciate the capybara from afar: many parts of the world allow capys as pets, including some US states. If you can find enough grass to sate this beast’s voracious (and entirely vegetarian) appetite, it’s possible to own one. They can be territorial, and they produce prodigious volumes of poop, I hear, but don’t we all?

In fact, the only serious design flaw I can find in the capybara is that it’s available in just one color, a rather nondescript, medium brown. A solid black or white model, like you find in the rabbit’s product portfolio, would really spice things up. And capys kind of look like giant guinea pigs, which come in a variety of snazzy designs, patterns, and color combos. It’s something for them to consider for their next evolutionary phase, I suppose.

So the next time you set a mousetrap, remember: that mouse’s distant cousin is one of the most adorable creatures on the planet — a creature that offers rides to monkeys, a rodent so unique that the Pope threw his hands up in defeat and called it a fish.

Don’t hate. Celebrate rodents. Celebrate the capybara.

The Capybara

Verge Score: 8.1

8.1

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Monkeys ride them

  • The Pope decided they were fish

  • You might be able to have one as a pet

Bad Stuff

  • Disappointing color options

  • Lots of eating and pooping