Thursday, June 20, 2013

STEM Friday: Capybara: The World's Largest Rodent

Capybara: The World's Largest Rodent
written by Natalie Lunis
2010 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

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Being the world's biggest in anything is a huge deal. As the world's largest rodent, the capybara (kap-i-BAR-uh) is a 110 pound plant eating machine that resides mostly in South America. It is almost double the weight of the next largest rodent, the North American beaver. Water is important to this creature as it uses it to stay cool since it lives in a place that is warm year round. Protection is another service provided by water. Capybaras live in groups of 10 to 30 and when the lookouts see danger, they bark and warn the other capybaras to head to the water. The ability to stay completely underwater for 5 minutes and to stay in the water mostly submerged for hours helps stave off prey like the jaguar. This enormous rodent is a model of group work. Females work together to watch the young. Communication is key as "they bark, grunt, chirp, and whistle" to make sure everyone in the group is informed. It's not easy being a large rodent in the world of caimans and jaguars, but the capybaras survive by relying on one another.

Students like to read about unusual animals and the capybara fits the bill. A good comparison activity would be to use a Venn diagram and compare this animal with its smaller fellow rodent, the beaver. The back matter in the book includes other rodents and their measurements so you could make further comparisons. An interesting contradiction is featured near the end of the book and this would make for a great discussion. Ranches that raise capybaras for their meat are actually aiding in the animal's survival. It would be a good thinking exercise for students to wrap their brains around how this could be true.

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