A funny thing happened this week, my owner got an email from a man named Stefanos Kourkoumelis at www.tralala.gr. That is a music site in Greek. Stefanos said he is writing “an article on the strange variety of sounds that the Capybara animal produce.” Well, I’m not sure I produce a strange variety of sounds but I do produce a variety of sounds. That got me thinking that maybe I should explain capybara language to my readers.
Capybara language is beautiful as anyone who has heard it can attest. We are related to guinea pigs and our sounds are similar but different. One difference is that, in general, we are perhaps not quite so loud as guinea pigs. People often ask my owner if I make any sounds when they are standing right next to me and I am eeping my head off. Sometimes this is because they just don’t hear me and sometimes it is because they mistake my sounds for those of a bird.
Another frequent question is, “Is he making that sound?” I think this is because I don’t open my mouth when I talk, no capybaras do. Capybara sounds come from our throat and our gut and, except for the bark, are all made without any movement of our mouths at all. This is nice because it allows us to sing underwater. I wish one of those film crews that works with whales or dolphins would come and record my underwater symphonies. Capybaras are at least as musical as cetaceans.
When capybaras are happy, we make a periodic series of five to seven short, low-tones. This is what my owner calls my Geiger counter sound. Stefanos, who heard it on my videos, said it sounds like a metronome. The lower the tone, the happier I am. It’s a pretty cute sound and my owner always smiles when she hears it.
If I want something, I make a higher pitched sound, more of a typical squeak, that rises at the end. The more upset I am, the higher the pitch and the longer I make each eep. When I’m really upset, for instance when my owner goes out to feed the horses and doesn’t take me, I can make this eep loudly enough to be heard several yards away. But I don’t think anyone who wasn’t familiar with capybaras would even notice it, it is not nearly as loud as a dog’s whine.
I suppose everybody knows about my cute little bark. Rick, my owner’s husband, says it is a cross between a cough and a sneeze. I make that when I am startled or I am in a playful mood. Sometimes I run up and down the hallway, shake my head and bark maybe four or five times in a row. Rick calls this my “bark and run.” But the bark is really used to warn other capybaras of danger and I do it when I am startled or frightened.
When I am aggressive, I make a clicking noise with my teeth. This really isn’t as good as a dog’s growl or a cat’s hiss because you have to be pretty close to hear it. Apparently humans do not associate this sound with anger because they do not react appropriately. I also huff which is like a forceful sigh.
Speaking of sighing, I do that when I lie down and am ready to sleep. If I don’t sigh, it means I’ll start eeping in a minute or two and no one is going to sleep until I am a little more tired.
My most interesting noise is what my owner calls “thrumming.” It is so low-pitched that humans can hardly hear it. I make that noise when I am afraid and upset. If I make it in the water, you can see tight ripples on the surface and, if your hand is in the water, you can feel the vibration. I make this sound whenever I hear Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson, which, luckily, is not often. This sound would be very difficult to record because it is too low and too soft.