Digestive physiology of captive capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Ali Kiani, Marcus Clauss, Sylvia Ortmann, Catharina Vendl, Elizabeth R. Congdon, Emilio A. Herrera, Michael Kreuzer, Angela Schwarm
Zoo Biology
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The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), the largest living rodent, probably has a “mucus-trap” colonic separation mechanism. To test this hypothesis, we measured the mean retention time of a solute marker (MRTSolute), 2 mm (MRT2 mm), 10 mm (MRT10 mm), and 20 mm (MRT20 mm) particle markers and nutrient digestibility in adult captive capybaras (27–52 kg body mass (BM), 2–11 yr). In addition, total gut fill and the selectivity factor (MRTSolute/MRT2 mm) were calculated, and mean faecal particle size and metabolic fecal nitrogen of captive capybaras were compared to those of free-ranging specimens. Finally, we also measured methane production in one animal. The MRT2 mm (29.2 ± 8.2 hr) was different (p < 0.01) from MRTSolute (37.0 ± 13.1 hr), MRT10 mm (36.5 ± 8.2 hr), and MRT20 mm (35.1 ± 9.6 hr). The selectivity factor (1.26 ± 0.30) was in the range considered typical for a “mucus-trap” colonic separation mechanism. The estimated total gut fill was 1.50 ± 0.37% and 1.73 ± 0.25% of BM calculated from the results of the 2-mm and 10-mm particle markers, respectively. The CH4 emission was 13.7 L/day. Captive capybaras had greater mean fecal particle size (0.44 ± 0.06 vs. 0.29 ± 0.05 mm, p < 0.001) and metabolic fecal nitrogen (65.5 ± 3.91 vs. 46.8 ± 10.5% of fecal nitrogen, p < 0.001) than free-ranging capybaras. Organic matter digestibility decreased less steeply with increasing dietary crude fiber content in capybaras as compared to published data from rabbits or guinea pigs. Accordingly, the digestive physiology of the capybara is characterized by a comparatively high fiber digestibility, with a “mucus-trap” colonic separation mechanism, allowing capybaras to thrive on forage-only diets.


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