updated 08/18/2011 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 08/18/2011 AT 5:15 PM ET
After a capybara was sighted recently at a California wastewater treatment plant, the public’s curiosity about the animal was piqued. What is a capybara? Is it anything like the chupacabra, a legendary creature that teases with “possible” sightings every chance it gets?
Here are five things you might not know about the world’s largest living rodent:
1. They make good pets (though they’re not always legal to keep). Despite their heft – capybara grow to be about 4-ft. long and weigh upwards of 100 lbs. – these rodents are friendly and respond well to human contact.
The most famous domesticated capybara might be Caplin ROUS (or Rodent of an Unusual Size), who lived with his owners in Texas until his death earlier this year. He was housebroken and had his own pool, which leads us to our next point.
2. They love a sunny dip in the water. Capybara are semiaquatic and prefer to get a swim in as often as they can. They can remain underwater for up to five minutes and can even sleep in the water as long as their noses stay exposed to air. In Japan, zoos are known to set up spa treatments for their large rodent residents, making it a win for visitors, too.
3. They’re vegetarian. You might even call them picky eaters. Capybara eat grass, mostly, and limit their selection to just a few plants. Like cows, they eat their own feces to help with digestion.
4. They’re social butterflies. These are chatty creatures who squeak and chirp (or even bark) through the day as they’re hanging out in their social groups.
5. They don’t taste like chicken – they taste like pork. Capybara are native to South America, where the meat is considered a delicacy. Salt-cured capybara is consumed during Lent in Venezuela, where the popularity of the dish prompted the Vatican to declare that capybara isn’t meat but fish.
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