When Is Capybara Mating Season?

Picture of a female capybara with her cubs on a river bank

If you see a herd of capybaras, you are likely to notice that the young are of many different ages. You might see very young ones and slightly older ones, and this is simply because the adults all breed at different times, and therefore have their young at different times.

The capybara mating season is spread throughout the whole year, but it reaches its height in May and June. This is the start of the rainy season, and most capybaras will pair up at this point. However, plenty of pairs will also breed at other times of the year. This means that there are almost always baby capybaras in a herd.

It’s unusual for all of the young in a group to be the same age, although they may be close in age.

How Often Do Capybaras Mate?

So if the answer to “when do capybaras mate?” is “any time of the year,” you might now be wondering how frequently they mate, and how many litters they can raise in a single year.

Although their breeding season is unending, a capybara will only mate once per year – at least, the females will. They will then give birth to a litter of babies and will devote their time and energy to raising these.

The males may mate many times in one year. Capybaras are not monogamous, and the strongest, most dominant males will mate with as many females as they can, fathering many litters. It is normal for the strongest males to mate with the majority of females in the group, but other males often sneak in a mating too.

A capybara female that breeds in the spring may give birth only a few months later, but she will not breed again during that year, and won’t become sexually available until the following year. This is because she will devote her care and energy to her babies, which will depend on her for around a year.

Baby capybaras are not capable of defending themselves, so although they stop drinking milk at around three months old, they still need their parents and the protection of the herd. This is why the mothers wait for so long before breeding again; until their babies are independent of them, they will not have another litter.

Males, by contrast, will mate with any available female that they can find, regardless of when they last mated. However, because there are only so many females in a single herd, the herd cannot end up with more babies than it can support. If females mated before their current litter was independent of them, this would be a big risk.

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Where Do Capybaras Mate?

Capybaras mate underwater, or at least in the water. They never mate on land, which is partly why herds are so dependent on having water nearby that they can retreat to.

Females will usually head into the water, with a male following them. Females whistle to encourage the males. Once in the water, the female will wait for the male or will dive down to the bottom of the lake. A female that does not want to mate with a particular male will dive down low enough to shake him off.

Sometimes, a pair of capybaras will mate on the surface of the water, while others will dive below the surface for this. Mating does not take long, and because their nostrils are on top of their heads, they can mate while almost completely submerged.

Capybaras must have water in order to mate, even though they don’t always submerge themselves in it. If you keep pet capybaras, you must make yourself aware of this, even if you don’t want them to breed. It is crucial to provide water for a whole range of reasons, but breeding is one of the important ones. If you don’t provide it, your capybaras will be stressed.

You might be wondering why these animals choose to mate in the water. Unfortunately, only a limited amount of study has been done into the mating habits of capybaras, so we don’t have a sure answer.

They may do this because they feel safer submerged in the water. Capybaras certainly do depend on water to protect them from predators such as wild cats and snakes, so this is plausible. A mating capybara may be less aware of its surroundings, and therefore chooses the safety of the water to protect itself.

How Long Is A Capybara Pregnant?

After mating, a female capybara will remain pregnant for around 150 days. This can vary a bit, but females will usually be pregnant for five months.

Because the major breeding period starts in May and June, October and November are usually the months when the herd numbers swell, and lots of baby capybaras can be seen running around. They can stand and walk very shortly after birth.

The females are nurturing mothers and will feed each others’ young as willingly as their own, sharing their milk. Capybaras may be quite closely related to each other, because they live in such large herds, and these family bonds help to encourage this sort of supportive parenting.

It is normal for baby capybaras to wean at around three months old, although they may start eating grass as early as a week old.

How Many Babies Can A Capybara Have?

Capybaras can produce surprisingly large litters of up to eight, but their litters can also be as small as two. The average is usually four, so if many females in a herd are pregnant at the same time, the herd will grow considerably.

Most herds will only have around fifteen young capybaras at a time, but big herds can support more youngsters.

How Do Capybaras Mate?

Male capybaras become sexually active when they are around fifteen to twenty-four months old. Female capybaras can become sexually active as young as seven months old but may be a year old before they mature in this way. Prior to this, they will show no interest in finding mates.

When they are ready to mate, females will release a perfume that informs the males that they are sexually active. They will also whistle to encourage males to follow them. The female has an estrus cycle every seven days, but they are only receptive for approximately eight hours per cycle, so males need to be alert and ready to mate.

The mating behavior of the two sexes is very different. The male capybaras are always keen to prevent other males from mating, but in large groups in particular, this is almost impossible. The dominant males simply have to satisfy themselves by mating with as many females as they can.

They usually become a bit more aggressive, due to the stress of the mating season, and it is best not to approach capybaras if you know it is peak mating season. The males in particular are more likely to bite, kick, or charge at you.

Do not go up to either a wild one or a pet one when you know it is in the mood to breed, whether it’s male or female.

When the female is ready to mate, she will wade out into the water, and then wait for the male to follow her. If he does, the two will mate. Mating is usually brief, and it seems that the female chooses which male she mates with.

Females have been observed mating with both subordinate and dominant males. Not enough study has yet been done to understand why this may be the case, or how the female selects her mate. However, she will shake off a male that she does not wish to mate with, often by diving to the riverbed.

Females will frequently mate with more than one male when they are receptive, and people view the species as polygynous and promiscuous because of this.

Often, when a pair is mating, a second male will come to try and interrupt the pairing. If successful, he may take over mating, or he may be driven off by the first male. It is rare for capybaras to fight, but during the breeding season, they may do so because the aggression levels are heightened.

Conclusion

Capybaras can mate at any time of the year, and it is common to see groups with pups that are both young and old. However, most couples mate during the rainy season, which is May and June, and they may mate multiple times during this season.

Males will try to mate with as many females as possible, chasing off other males, but ultimately, it is the females that choose their mates.

Image credit: Cultura Limited / Superstock

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