Capybaras could become Florida’s next invasive species

The capybara is the world’s largest rodent, reaching up to 50 kilograms or more. Not the kind of creature you would want to spread out of control – but that could happen in Florida, according to an expert biologist.

Elizabeth Congdon of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach told the the 53rd Annual Conference of the Animal Behavior Society that “Capybaras have been introduced to northern Florida,” and that “several sightings suggest they have been breeding.”

That in itself may not seem too worrying, but capybaras’ similarity to nutria – large invasive rodents that have run amok in several US states – suggests there could be trouble ahead.

Originating in South America, the semiaquatic animals live in social groups in forests near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes or swamps. They have entered the state as pets, some of which escape or are released.

Don’t kill them all just yet

There are currently around 50 loose in northern Florida, and it is feared they may become an invasive species – a species causing economic or environmental harm, or harm to humans.

“They might be able to make a go of it in the United States,” Congdon said.

However, while they breed at a considerable rate, it is as yet unclear if they share the nutria’s destructive trait of digging into riverbanks, levees and other places and causing the ground to disintegrate.

Capybaras currently represent an opportunity as well as a potential threat.

“We want to keep them from spreading,” Congdon concludes, “but can we please not kill them all so I can study them?”

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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