In my recent blog poll, my hair/fur came in a distant seventh in the list of features that people most like about me. I think that is because they don’t understand how wonderful it is. My hair really is one of my best features and it is seriously under-appreciated.
Capybara hair is pretty unique, even among rodents. Wikipedia defines three types of hair in mammals: down hair, awn hair and guard hair. Guard hair is the longest of the three and is typically coarse, sparse, straight hairs that stick out through the other two layers. That might be typical but it is not the case with us capybaras. In fact, we don’t have the other two layers of hair at all, all we have are guard hairs. And they are coarse, sparse and straight.
My hair is so coarse that many people express surprise when they pet me. My owner says my hair feels like wire but a lot of people compare it to the husk of a coconut. I am not soft like a guinea pig.
My hair is so sparse that I really don’t even have any in a lot of places. For example, most of my belly is naked along with the insides of my legs. And even where I have hair, you can usually see right down to my skin. This is good because it would make it really easy for my owner to find any fleas on me if I ever got fleas, which I don’t.
Most of my hair is long but not all of it. On my nose, my hair is maybe one eighth of an inch long. Around my eyes it gets to about one quarter inch. As you move back along my body, it gets longer and longer. The longest hairs are four to five inches and are along my back and flanks. My owner made the drawing below to show how my hair grows.
This kind of hair works great for a semi-aquatic animal like me. It protects me from the sun when I need it but it also lets the sun come through to my skin to warm me up if I’m cold. The photo at the top and the video below show what great control I have over whether my hair lies flat or stands on end. That’s pretty handy for thermoregulation.
Capybara hair is not waterproof but it dries very, very quickly. When I get out of the pool, I give one quick shake and I’m basically dry. I don’t need a towel and I don’t drip water all over the house.
Baby capybaras have relatively short hair all over their bodies. It isn’t until we are about a year old that some hair really start getting longer.
My hair is even more special than your average capybara’s because I have a little tuft of long hairs right between my ears. You can see it in the photo above. As far as I know, I am the only capybara with that extra flair, and that makes me special.