What I Am Not: An Agouti


Why did the agouti cross the road?

One of the animals we capybaras are most often confused with is an agouti. Agoutis are rodents and their range overlaps with the range of capybaras but we are not the same animal. In the photo above you can see a Panamanian agouti running. In the photo you can see some of the ways we look the same and some of the ways we look different.

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What I Am Not: That Plush Monster

Is that supposed to be me?

I wonder if y’all have been as anxiously waiting for the arrival of the new plush version of me as I have. Ever since my owner told me it was in the mail, I have been waiting and waiting and then waiting some more for the FedEx guy to deliver a package just for me.

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What I Am Not: Lots of things!

Some things I am not

I was thinking that while I have said a few things that I am not in previous posts, I have really only scratched the surface. There are an awful lot of things I’m not and I can’t go through them species by species or even genus by genus or I will never cover them all. Therefore I have decided to make this post to explain in broad strokes all of the things I am not.

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What I Am Not: A Fish

Me swimming like a fish

Of all the things I have been confused with, a fish must be the craziest. I am bringing this up now because it is almost Easter. This is a very bad time for wild capybaras and it is all because of us being confused with fish. Before we get into why, let me just go over some of our similarities and differences.

Some ways we are different:

  • Fish have scales, capybaras have fur
  • Fish breath with gills, capybaras have beautiful noses
  • Fish breath water, capybaras breath air
  • Fish have fins, capybaras have legs
  • Fish are exothermic (cold-blooded), capybaras are endothermic (warm-blooded)
  • Fish don’t have eyelids, capybaras have eyelids with beautiful lashes
  • Fish come in all kinds of crazy colors, capybaras, like almost all mammals, are a shade of brown
  • Fish don’t have ears, capybaras have very cute ears that we wiggle when happy

Some ways we are similar:

  • Fish and capybaras both swim underwater
  • Fish and capybaras are both vertebrates (have backbones)
  • Some fish and all capybaras have teeth

To be honest, there aren’t many similarities and I really skimped on the differences. To me, it is virtually impossible to confuse a capybara with a fish, but it has been done.

In fact, the confusion started in the 16th century when a group of monks convinced the “infallible” pope, that capybaras were fish just so their new converts could eat us during lent. For those of you who don’t know, there used to be a restriction against eating meat during lent, which is the 40 days leading up to Easter.  Since the converts weren’t going to follow this restriction anyway, the monks thought it would be better if the pope condoned it rather than having all of their new parishioners breaking the faith.

Venezuelans still eat lots of capybaras during lent and this makes me very, very sad.

What I Am Not: Peccary / Javelina

The wide variety of animals that I can be confused with is a constant source of amazement to me. How could you humans mistake a cute animal like a capybara with some of these–let’s call them visually challenged–animals? I don’t get it. Nevertheless, it does happen and I am here to set the record straight. I am NOT a peccary or javelina or skunk hog or whatever other name you want to call these animals.

Collared peccary in Venezuela

Collared peccary in Venezuela

I’m not saying peccaries aren’t cute. They have a certain charm about them. But look at that nose! Now look at the photo of my nose.

Adorable capybara profile including nose

My profile including my adorable nose

Do they look anything alike? No.

Here are some other ways we are different:

  • Peccaries have hooves (they are in the group with even-toed hoofed animals), capybaras have webbed feet.
  • Peccaries are omnivores, capybaras are herbivores
  • Peccaries have tusks, capybaras have self-sharpening incisors
  • Peccaries live from the American Southwest, through Central America and South America, capybaras are restricted to southern Panama and eastern South America.
  • Peccaries top out at around 90 lbs, that would be a puny capybara
  • Groups of peccaries sometimes attack and kill humans, capybaras are sweet, docile animals
  • Peccaries have an unpleasant odor from a scent gland on their back, capybaras have a nose scent gland whose odor is not noticeable by humans
  • Peccaries can run up to 20 mph, no one bothers to clock capybaras because we are so slow
  • Peccaries live up to 24 years, capybaras, sadly, live only 12-14 years

Here are some ways we are similar:

  • Our overall body shape is long and narrow
  • We overlap through much of our South American ranges
  • We both have very coarse hair
  • We are about the same length and height even though capys weigh more
  • We both have small ears (although capy ears are much cuter)
  • Jaguars, crocodiles and caiman will eat capybars or peccaries

I hope that clears up any confusion you have had on this topic. Do not feel too badly, lots of people make this mistake. But look again at the nose on that peccary and my nose. Seriously, don’t confuse us again.