Why Don’t Alligators, Crocodiles, Or Caimans Eat Capybaras? (Vet Tech Explains)

Why Don't Alligators, Crocodiles, Or Caimans Eat Capybaras

Have you ever seen those photos or videos of unlikely animal friends? Sometimes you’ll see a goose who spends its days following around a dog or a pelican who’s hitched a ride on a turtle. One of the most unusual animal combinations is a capybara and a crocodilian.

Alligators, crocodiles, and caimans seem to get along well with capybaras and don’t immediately eat them.

So, why don’t alligators, crocodiles, or caimans eat capybaras?

It’s hard to say for sure why alligators, crocodiles, and caimans don’t always eat capybaras. In the wild, capybaras might be too big for these reptiles to swallow and may also help crocs keep an eye out for predators. In captivity, these unlikely friends might bond since they’re not hungry or in survival mode.  

Though no one can know for sure why, alligators, crocodiles, and caimans do the things they do, we can always speculate. Before we delve into the reasons why crocodilians might not eat capybaras, let’s talk about what capybaras are!

What Is A Capybara?

If you’ve never heard of a capybara, don’t feel bad. They’re unusual animals that you wouldn’t necessarily learn about in school. Capybaras are the largest living rodent in the world. These giant rodents are closely related to guinea pigs and chinchillas.

Capybaras are around 4 feet long, and 2 feet tall, and can weigh up to 100 lbs as adults. These animals are native to South America but have been spotted as far north as Florida.

Capybaras are incredibly social. They are always found in groups of at least 10 to 20 but can live in groups as big as 100 individuals. Although capybaras aren’t considered threatened, they are hunted for their meat, hides, and grease from their fatty skin.

These large rodents are semi-aquatic and spend most of their lives near or in bodies of water. Despite their density, these animals are incredible swimmers and can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes per dive. Capybaras are herbivores and graze on grasses and aquatic plants.

It’s important to get a little background information on capybaras because it can help us speculate as to why they aren’t a main food source for crocodilians.

3 Reasons Why Alligators, Crocodiles, And Caimans Don’t Always Eat Capybaras In The Wild

You’ll notice that we didn’t state that alligators, crocodiles, and caimans never eat capybaras in the wild. Even though there are plenty of examples of capybaras and crocodilians coexisting capybaras occasionally still become prey.

Below are some of the reasons why a crocodilian might not choose to eat capybara in the wild.

Reason 1: They Have A Different Range From Alligators

The American alligator is the only alligator that would ever run into a capybara in the wild. The habitat range of the American alligator spans along the coast from North Carolina to the middle of Texas. American alligators are only found in this particular habitat range. On the other hand, capybaras are only found natively in South America.

Despite this, there is somehow a small thriving population of capybaras in Florida. Capybaras have been sighted in North-central Florida and as far south as cape coral.

It’s highly unlikely that capybaras and alligators would have contact in the wild because of their habitat ranges. And, if they do run into each other, they would probably be slow to approach one another. Physical distance may be one reason that alligators don’t eat capybaras in the wild.

Reason 2: They’re Hard To Swallow

Capybaras are thick animals!

To put it into perspective, capybaras weigh as much as many adult human women do but are 2/3 of the height. They’re literally a mouthful. Capybaras also have incredibly thick and fatty skin. Although this might sound tasty, fat isn’t the most appetizing substance to eat raw.

Besides their unappetizing body composition, capybaras are still oversized rodents. They have tough short hairs and very long teeth. When provoked, capybaras will bite aggressively at their predators. These herbivores are not defenseless and can put up a good fight.

For some crocodilians, capybaras just might not be worth the work when there’s easier prey around.

Reason 3: They’re Good Company

The last reason why crocodiles, alligators, and caimans may not eat capybaras is that they make good neighbors.

Capybaras are notoriously chill. They seem to “get along” with a lot of different animals in the wild. We know that these rodents are social and enjoy the company of other animals.

Like many other animals, capybaras take naps at midday when the sun is at its highest. Crocodilians also like to sleep during the day on riverbanks while basking in the sun. It’s possible that these unlikely friends might make the perfect napping buddies.

On top of being chill, capybaras are a prey species that is always on the lookout for danger. If they’re in danger, capybaras raise the alarm by making a barking noise that the rest of the group can hear.

Crocodilians might not eat capybaras in the wild because they help protect them from bigger predators like anacondas and jaguars.

2 Reasons Why Alligators, Crocodiles, And Caimans Don’t Eat Capybaras In Captivity

The rules for animals in captivity are very different from the rules in the wild. Animals in captivity often get along better with animals of different species. You’ll notice in aquariums that large tanks contain fish that would normally prey on each other in the open ocean.

So what makes captivity different?

Here are a few things that would influence a crocodilian to befriend a capybara in captivity.

Reason 1: They’re Never Hungry

In nature, one of the driving factors of survival is hunger. Wild animals are always on the hunt and looking for something to fill their bellies. In the wild, alligators will eat just about anything from ducklings to their own offspring. In captivity, animals are so well-fed that they don’t need to look for prey to hunt.

So, in theory, two animals that would normally be adversaries in the wild could be friends in captivity.

With meals coming regularly once or twice a day tensions are low and unlikely bonds can be made. Crocodilians probably wouldn’t think about eating a friendly capybara if they were well-fed in captivity.

Reason 2: They Might Be Lonely

Another factor in captivity that might provoke an animal to keep another animal alive is loneliness.

Animals in captivity get bored very easily. Some captive animals get bored to the point of self-destruction. While crocodiles and alligators may still fight each other in captivity for territorial reasons, a capybara might be a nice addition to keep them company.

It’s hard to imagine what a solitary life in confinement would feel like, but you can imagine having a large rodent friend could be a plus.

What Animals Do Eat Capybaras?

After all this, you might be wondering which animals do eat capybaras. Since alligators, crocodiles, and caimans don’t always eat them, who does?

In South America, capybaras are prey to jaguars, cougars, anacondas, vultures, and ocelots. Even though these animals are sociable and tough to eat, they still have plenty of natural predators. Surprisingly, a capybara’s largest predators by volume are humans.

Final Thoughts

We’re not claiming that alligators, crocodiles, and caimans don’t ever eat capybaras. However, there are many instances where capybaras have been observed sitting in the midst of large groups of crocodilians.

This is probably because capybaras are chill, tough to eat, and make good alarms of nearby predators. Plus, capybaras don’t really cross into alligator territory often. In captivity, crocodilians have different behavioral reasons for not eating capybaras.

For the most part, crocodilians seem content to let these large rodents coexist with them in peace.