Capybara vs. Nutria: What's the Difference?

Photo: Sebastian Jakimczuk via Getty Images

At first look, there may not appear to be many differences between a capybara and a nutria. However, despite their similar appearances, these two semi-aquatic rodents have a wide range of distinct features that set them apart. But what are some of these distinctions, and how can one learn to differentiate between these two animals that are so similar?

This article will discuss the differences between capybaras and nutrias, including their favorite habitats, food, and social behavior. We will also discuss their physical looks so that you can recognize their visible differences. Let's begin our discussion of these two fascinating species.

What Are Capybaras and Nutrias?

Capybara Nutria

Photo: Markus Semmler via Getty Images

The capybara, often known as the water hog or carpincho, is a big semiaquatic South American rodent.

From Panama to Argentina, Capybaras live in woods and marshes. One of the bigger rodents in the world, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), may reach 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) in length and weigh up to 79 kilograms (174 pounds).

Isthmius capybara is the smallest of the two capybara species; it may grow up to 3 feet long and weigh 28 kilograms (62 pounds). Capybaras are often classified as the sole members of the Hydrochoeridae family, although some taxonomists classify them as belonging to the Hydrochoerinae subfamily of the Caviidae family. Capybaras are similar to cavies and guinea pigs.

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) are rather large rodents that reach lengths of 17 to 25 inches (43 to 64 cm) from head to rear, comparable to a raccoon's size. According to National Geographic, the creatures weigh between 15 and 22 pounds (7 to 10 kg) and have a tail of 10 to 16 inches (25 to 41 cm). Nutria seems more like a hybrid between a little beaver and a gigantic rat, with two enormous, orange-tinted front incisors and long, rounder tails.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nutria may have up to three litters a year with two to 13 young each, allowing their numbers to develop rapidly. They reach sexual maturity at four months of age and can reproduce within one or two days of giving birth.

What Are Rodents?

The capybara and nutria are both rodents. Rodents are all mammals that are members of the Order Rodentia, which includes over 2,000 separate species and represents around 43% of all mammals in the world. There are multiple rodent families in the phylum Rodentia, with each family having its own unique set of traits.

All rodents under the order Rodentia have the following characteristics: They're all mammals with hairy bodies, tails, and the ability to give birth to living children and care for them. The main thing that all rodents have in common is how their teeth and jaws are built and how well they can gnaw. The Latin word "rodere," which means to chew, is the root of the English word "rodent."

Rodents have robust, visible front incisors on both jaws, distanced by a space from their molars called a diastema.  

The incisors never stop growing. Additionally, rodents have a more complicated jaw muscular structure to support their chewing habit. Animals that lack this mix of characteristics are not classified as Rodentia. Moles and shrews, for instance, belong to the order Insectivora due to their arrays of needle-like teeth.

The Main Difference Between The Two Big Rodents

Capybara Nutria

Photo: marktucan via Getty Images

Capybaras and nutrias have a wide range of unique characteristics. Capybaras, as previously stated, are part of the Caviidae family, whereas nutrias are members of the Myocastoridae family. Compared to capybaras, nutrias are a fraction of the size, on average. The capybara's social behavior is also very different from that of the nutria.

Let's go into the nitty-gritty of these differences next.

Location and Habitat

Although both the capybara and the nutria are believed to have come from South America, only nutria can currently be found around the globe. This is because nutrias are considered invasive species, while capybaras are not. However, even though each of these animals considers lands near the water their natural habitat, their environments are quite distinct.

Capybaras like to make their homes in grassy or marshy areas with a constant water supply nearby. In contrast, nutrias construct intricate tunnel systems along the sides of rivers or ponds. While capybaras like swimming with their strong bodies, nutrias create rafts or platforms to travel rivers and streams, which they also use to sleep in.

Physical Appearance

There is a clear distinction between the capybara and the nutria, even though the two species share very similar coats.

The fur of capybaras is tan, whereas that of nutrias is dark brown. The most notable physical distinction between these two species is that capybaras are completely devoid of tails, whereas nutrias have tails that are very lengthy and rat-like.

Speaking of rats, nutrias have a physique that is comparable to that of beavers or rats, while capybaras have a bulky and extremely distinctive body structure. The ears, eyes, and nostrils of capybaras are all located on the top of their heads, which is another unique characteristic of these animals. In contrast, nutrias have a face that is more like that of a beaver. Therefore, unlike the capybara, they cannot use all their senses when swimming.

If you look at a nutria's muzzle, you'll see that it's far smaller than a capybara's. The snout of nutrias are covered in white specks, and their brown and orange teeth frequently protrude from their mouths. Capybaras seldom display their front teeth, and their fur is uniformly a single color all over their bodies.


Both capybaras and nutrias are known for their strong social ties with other species. Capybaras, especially those that live in grassy regions, prefer to congregate in big groups. The same holds true for nutrias, but capybaras often have bigger herds than nutrias. On the other hand, both types of animals can communicate with others of their own kind by making various cries and grunts.

In contrast to nutria, which is predominantly nocturnal, capybaras don't need nearly as much sleep to function well. The nutria is most active at night, unlike capybaras, who like to nap in the sunshine whenever they are given a chance and don't follow a regular routine. Nutrias can also dig complex tunnels and passages, while capybaras are not.

Favorite Food

The diet that capybaras and nutrias consume is another way in which these two animals differ from one another. Although both of these animals are herbivores, capybaras feed on bark, grasses, and aquatic plants, whereas nutrias consume the entire plant for many of the land-based food they consume. Because of this, nutrias are likely to have a poorer reputation than capybaras. Let's go deeper into the meaning of what this indicates.

Nutrias have the potential to wreak havoc on ecosystems because they consume the whole plant, including the rhizome or roots. Nutrias have an infamous reputation for eating entire plant populations or fields, sparing little for other creatures to eat in their wake. In addition, they do not leave behind any seeds so that the plants may regenerate; this has the effect of having a detrimental effect on some places or ecosystems.

Fun fact: the capybara has been observed to eat their own poo as breakfast. Due to the high amount of bacteria digesting the previous day's food, their feces will be protein-rich at this time. Because the plants they consume are so difficult to digest, consuming their feces effectively allows them to digest it twice.



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