Capybara vs. Groundhog

What’s the biggest rodent in the world? If you guessed the capybara, you would be correct! Weighing in at up to 146 pounds, the capybara takes the prize for world’s largest rodent. Now compare that to the common groundhog, which tips the scales at a modest 13 pounds. At first glance, the capybara makes its ground-dwelling cousin look downright tiny.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the jumbo-sized capybara to the humbler groundhog across various parameters like appearance, behavior, habitat, diet, lifestyle, and ecological role. Through this side-by-side analysis, you’ll learn why the capybara stands in a league of its own while developing an appreciation for the groundhog’s unique traits.

Capybara vs. Groundhog
Capybara vs. Groundhog

Size and Appearance

The sheer size differential between capybaras and groundhogs is staggering. An adult capybara typically is 3.5 to 4.3 feet long and over 2 feet tall. Compare that to the groundhog that measures a modest 2 feet in length.

In terms of weight, capybaras average between 77 to 146 pounds depending on gender and age. Groundhogs max out around 13 pounds even during peak fall season when extra fat reserves boost their weight before winter hibernation.

Both species do share similar coarse, brown fur all over their bodies. However, the hair density and color patterning differs significantly. Capybaras have sparser fur that can appear slightly reddish, while groundhogs have a grizzled, grey-brown coat accentuated by lighter underparts.

The capybara’s bare snout and webbed feet are adapted for its semi-aquatic lifestyle not shared by the land-loving groundhog. Also, capybaras lack a visible tail while groundhogs have a short furry tail about one-third its body length.

size of Capybara

Behavior and Lifestyle

Groundhogs lead mostly solitary lives, coming together only to mate. They are fiercely defensive of their home territories. However, capybaras are extremely social creatures that congregate in large family groups called herds, which can number 100+ individuals.

The herd has a hierarchy where dominant male capybaras rule over the females. Rank is determined by aggressive displays like chasing, vocalizations, goose-stepping, and scent marking. Conflict is common among capybara males competing for dominance.

In contrast, beyond defending territory, groundhogs rarely engage in aggressive confrontations. They quietly keep to themselves when not defending burrows or foraging for food.

Kiss between two capybara in the water

Capybaras and groundhogs do share an affinity for digging holes, albeit for different reasons. The capybara’s aquatic escape burrows provide quick shelter from danger with multiple entry and exit routes. Groundhogs spend summer months stockpiling food in their solitary burrows where they will later hibernate for weeks without emerging.

Both species mate in spring, but capybara gestation periods last 130-150 days compared to just 32-44 days for groundhogs. Typical capybara litter size ranges from 1-8 pups, while groundhogs average slightly smaller litters of 2 to 6 offspring.

Habitat and Geographical Distribution

As you may have deduced already, capybaras and groundhogs occupy very different habitats tied closely to their lifestyles. Semiaquatic capybaras thrive in densely forested riparian areas near bodies of water like rivers, swamps, marshes and lakes.

They can be found across the tropical and subtropical zones of South America east of the Andes, ranging from Panama to northern Argentina. Introduced capybara populations exist in Florida, Texas, California and parts of Central America like Belize.

capybara in the nature habitat

Groundhogs are widespread across central and eastern North America spanning southern Canada down to northern Alabama. They prefer open country like meadows, pastures and field/forest transitional zones but readily adapt to suburbia.

Groundhogs avoid dense forests and bodies of water. Instead, their solitary borrow-dwelling lifestyle centers around underground burrow networks for sleeping, storing food, hibernating in winter and raising offspring.

Diet and Eating Habits

As herbivores, capybaras and groundhogs both eat mainly plants including grass, fruits and vegetables. However, with its semi-aquatic habits, the capybara feeds heavily on aquatic plants like water lilies, tule potato and Hydrilla. They will also graze on grasses and rainforest tree fruits.

Unique to the capybara is coprophagy – the practice of passing feces and re-ingesting it to fully digest stubborn plant materials. Groundhogs will consume a wide variety of non-aquatic plants including dandelions, clover, berries and agricultural crops. Both species also occasionally eat insects and worms encountered while foraging.

Ecological Role and Importance

As the world’s largest rodent, the capybara is a keystone species in its freshwater habitat. Its vigorous grazing activity in wetlands prevents dense overgrowth of aquatic vegetation. Large capybara herds influence the movements of other wildlife and promote species diversity through selective feeding.

Research shows that capybara urine markings and “restrooms” concentrated along watercourses alter the mineral balance and fertility of soils. This produces conditions favorable for specialized plants with higher magnesium and calcium demands.

Ecological Role and Importance

Groundhogs may damage gardens, but they contribute positively to the environment by aerating soil with their extensive burrows. Burrow networks serve many ground-dwelling species and abandoned tunnels mitigate erosion/flooding. As prey, groundhogs sustain healthy fox, coyote, hawk and owl populations.

Major Similarities and Standout Differences

SizeWorld’s largest rodent (3.5-4 ft. long)Typical small-medium rodent (Up to 2 ft. long)
Weight77-146 lbsUp to 13 lbs
Social BehaviorGregarious herding lifestyleSolitary burrow-dweller
Native HabitatSouth AmericaNorth America
Habitat TypeAquatic/marsh habitatOpen grasslands/meadows
DietEat grasses & aquatic plantsEat a wide variety of vegetation

This table summarizes the major similarities and differences between Capybaras and Groundhogs based on the provided information.

Scientific Classification

Here is a table comparing the scientific classification of capybaras and groundhogs:

Common NameCapybara, Greater CapybaraGroundhog, Woodchuck
Scientific NameHydrochoerus hydrochaerisMarmota monax
SpeciesH. hydrochaerisM. monax

The key points of similarity in their scientific classification are:

  • Both are members of the Animalia kingdom as mammals
  • They belong to the Chordata phylum as vertebrates
  • Both are rodents, falling under the Rodentia order
  • They diverge at the family level, with capybaras in Caviidae and groundhogs in Sciuridae


While their rodent heritage provides some common ground, capybaras clearly stand in a breed of their own next to diminutive groundhogs. Whether by virtue of size, community-oriented lifestyle or ecological impact, capybaras leave an oversized impression compared to the humble groundhog. Hopefully by highlighting unique adaptations like the capybara’s webbed feet and coprophagous digestive system, this article gave deeper insight into behaviors supporting contrasting lifestyles – one semiaquatic and one borrowed underground.

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