8 Unusual Facts About Capybara Teeth

You guys know, the same as I do, that capybaras are some pretty unique animals. They are not only beloved by people from around the globe but other animals love them as well.

Capybaras have super hard, razor-sharp teeth that never stop growing. They can fall out sometimes but they quickly grow back out. For captive capybaras, it is super important to have access to coarse foods and coarse materials like stones or tree bark.

Bird on a capybara

By now you probably know that capybaras are giant rodents native to South America, in fact, they are the largest living rodent in the world.

They are known as chigüire or chigüiro in Colombia and Venezuela, capivara in Brazil, and less commonly carpincho.

In Japan, they are called カピバラ and are arguably the country’s favorite animal. One zoo, in particular, is attributed for making capybaras Japanese bathing superstars: Izu Shaboten Zoo in Shizuoka prefecture. The zoo introduced capybaras to hot springs full of fruit, citrus in particular, and there was no looking back.

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Capybaras bathing

Enough soaking, let’s move on to their amazing teeth and especially their four long incisors.

1. Diastema

Between their incisors and molars is a gap called a diastema, which is pretty normal in mammals. Capybaras chew their food thoroughly and it’s pretty much all they do the whole day.

2. Occlusal Morphology

Their cheek teeth have a thing called occlusal morphology and what that means is that the way their teeth come together to chew on food changes throughout the course of their life. In fact, in capybaras, the occlusal morphology of their cheek teeth is so peculiar that a special system of names had to be developed to describe them.

Capybaras are herbivores and they’re grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit, tree bark, bushes, and sage. They tend to be very selective and will feed primarily on a specific plant species depending on the animal, and the location.

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3. Capybara‘s Teeth Never Stop Growing

We already know that capybaras are basically huge rodents but did you know that the word rodent means “to gnaw” in Latin. That’s right, capybaras need to keep gnawing at all times because their teeth never stop growing. Can you imagine if your teeth never stopped growing? Maybe that’s why some people grind their teeth when they’re asleep.

Their teeth can measure over 8 centimeters or over 3 inches but overgrown teeth can keep them from being able to eat food, and they can starve.

It is also not unusual for them to lose one or more of their incisors, but don’t be alarmed, they grow back incredibly quickly. You can see their teeth growing out within days!

Owners of pet capybaras can have quite a collection of their pet’s fallen off teeth. If you’re into making a tooth necklace, get a capybara.

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4. Capybara‘s Chew On Some Weird Stuff

Because their teeth keep on growing, they have to keep grinding them. And they looove to grind them. Their favorite things to chew on are – stones! Yup, that’s how hard their teeth are. Remind me to never ask them for a mint!

Capybaras, being rodents, don’t have canines like many other mammals so they use incisors for cutting or shearing food into small chewable pieces, premolars to tear and crush food and molars to chew, crush and grind food.

Top and bottom incisors make a scissor effect which allows them to crop grasses they eat to the ground. This is especially important in the summer when the food source is scarce.

5. Capybaras Eat Some Weird Stuff

I’ve already mentioned that capybaras are herbivores but they can chow down on some weird shit, literally.

They are what is called, autocoprophagous, in other words, they eat their own feces. Why do they do that I hear you saying? They eat their own feces as a source of bacterial gut flora, to help digest the cellulose in the grass that forms their normal diet, and to extract the maximum protein and vitamins from their food.

It is a necessary behavior for proper nutrition. Consuming high fiber diets, it is very effective to let the tough plant material pass through the digestive system twice.

Everybody poops but not everyone eats it too.

6. Capybara‘s Teeth Are Super Hard!

Rodent teeth, and by that analogy, capybara‘s teeth are harder than lead, aluminum, copper, platinum and iron. By comparison, rats often gnaw through metal pipes and PVC pipes, plastic containers or cardboard boxes.

No wonder capybaras chow on stones, it’s like chewing gum for them.

Teeth have the same composition as a bone and all teeth grow continually, meaning they’re always hard, healthy and sharp. A tooth consists of three layers of mineralized tissues; a hard external layer of enamel forms the crown of the tooth. Because the incisors have hard enamel only on the front surface, the incisors wear at an angle, with the soft dentin in the back wearing off before the enamel in the front. This guarantees a sharp, bevel-shaped cutting edge.

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Capybara‘s teeth wear naturally through the consumption of hard foodstuffs and gnawing behavior.

Capybaras have to have particularly good teeth. Not only do they use them for very long periods but the material they have to deal with is often very tough. Capybaras, like other rodents – rats, squirrels, mice, beavers or porcupines – cope with that problem by maintaining open roots to their front gnawing teeth, the incisors, so that they continue to grow throughout the animal’s life compensating for wear and tear.

7. Capybara‘s Teeth Are Razor Sharp

To keep these teeth from growing into their brains, capybaras grind their teeth against each other.
This friction is similar to using a grindstone to sharpen a knife. “Self-sharpening” not only keeps the teeth short, but it also keeps the edges very sharp, almost like a chisel.

Imagine having small chisel for teeth, you’d be unstoppable.

Capybaras also have enlarged chewing muscles that allow their jaw to work in a vertical, forward and backward motion.

8. Pet Capybaras Can Die

Pet capybara

It is essential for capybaras in zoos or being kept as pets, to have a diet that replicates as closely as possible their natural diet in the wild. This means they must have access to coarse foods. Several pet capybaras have died due to teeth problems that developed as a result of the wrong diet. So if you’re entertaining the idea of having a pet capybara, please, please make sure they have access to the proper food they need.

Make sure they also have access to tree bark, stone or something similar to chew on. If they have access to your home, keep cables behind furniture or out of reach of capybaras as they sometimes go out of their way to gnaw on them.

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