Thursday, 2 September 2010

Now I know who ate Nessie!

A catchy headline but not the infamous Nessie of course, merely our very own potato head Nessie, found by me in our vegetable rack and displayed – quite dashingly - by Max as written about earlier on Jon’s blog. Her demise came at the hands – or teeth – of a family of capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) at Paignton Zoo and we have photos to prove it!

David (born Twycross Zoo in March 2008) and Davina (born Chessington Zoo in October 2008) both arrived at Paignton Zoo in 2009. Born on 18th August this year, this youngster is their first offspring and is so far un-sexed. Sometimes known as the giant guinea pig, capybaras are the world’s largest rodent and are found in densely forested areas or grassland near bodies of water in much of South America. They can grow up to 1.3 metres in length and like nothing more than to lounge around in swamps and rivers with only their eyes and nostrils breaking the surface. They have slightly webbed toes which help them to swim – they are excellent swimmers and use their ability to survive underwater for up to five minutes as an escape from predators. They can also sleep underwater, keeping their nostrils just above the waterline.

In the wild one of the main parts of their diet is the water hyacinth and to accommodate their growing family, Paignton Zoo’s Garden Department has been growing plants especially for them to eat this year.

Caught in the act!

An adult capybara can eat 6-8 pounds of grasses per day and chews food by grinding back and forth rather than side to side. Similar to a cud-chewing by a cow, they may also regurgitate their food to masticate it again. They also like to eat their own faeces as a source of bacterial gut flora which helps to digest the cellulose in the grass in order to take out the maximum amount of protein from their food.

In the wild they have a lifespan of 4 – 8 years but on average this is less than four years due to them being the favourite food of various predators such as the jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle and caiman, as well as being the anaconda’s preferred meal.

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