Invasion of the 100-pound rodents

Wayne Hobbs Environmental Horticulture Agent
Posted 3/14/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Just imagine you are driving along a road near Black Creek and all of a sudden you see a large rodent, standing two feet tall and weighing over 100 pounds. Does this sound …

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Invasion of the 100-pound rodents

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Just imagine you are driving along a road near Black Creek and all of a sudden you see a large rodent, standing two feet tall and weighing over 100 pounds. Does this sound a little far-fetched? The truth is the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, could become an established citizen in Florida and our county.

Description of Capybaras

Capybaras are native to South America and were originally brought into our country through the pet trade and for use in zoos. At adult size, they can be almost four feet long and spend their lives near bodies of water where they can thrive due to their webbed feet and heads designed to allow them to breath easily while swimming.

Their main food source is aquatic plants but they tend to be selective eaters. However, in South America, many consider them to be a pest because of their damage to major crops including sugar cane, rice and soybeans.

Semi-aquatic animals that live in social groups in forests, in the wild they prefer being near rivers, lakes or swamps. Research has shown they can survive on various types of vegetation, from grasses to bark. There is a growing concern because they can reproduce at a fair pace because they have four-to-eight babies per litter.

An Unexpected Arrival

The first capybara encounter in Florida was a roadkill instance in 1992 and since then, according to invasive species reporting site EDDMapS, there have been at least 35 instances of capybara sightings in the state. Most of these have been along the Santa Fe River but there is one report in Clay County in 2015.

It is likely that most of the capybara that have been spotted in Florida are those that have escaped or were abandoned pets. They have been observed in breeding populations over time. However, an accurate estimate of established animals is not known.

A Major Problem?

As of now, the capybaras present in Florida have not shown much of an impact and populations have not exploded. More research is needed to understand if they may become a pest in our natural ecosystems and agricultural fields. Additionally, they have been shown to be a carrier for a few human diseases which could potentially increase the prevalence of existing pathogens or introduce new ones altogether. Overall, management strategies are not known as resources are focused on more destructive and established pests such as feral hogs.

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If you have any horticultural, agricultural, 4-H Club, or family and consumer science questions, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Clay County Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.

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