We all know the typical rodents such as mice and rats, but they are not fascinating enough. The largest rodents are the ones that not many pay attention to although they are quite cool. Rodents are mammals with a single pair of continuously growing incisors in their lower and upper jaws. Also, this also explains why they always gnaw because they have to wear those incisors down. There are not so many of the largest rodents out there, but I managed to find only 7. Let’s take a look and see if you know any of the largest rodents in my list below.
Size: 35 – 60 centimeters (13 – 23 inches)
Found throughout Africa and the south of the Sahara, cane rats are a bit of everything. They are one of the popular food in some African countries while being pests at the same time. These large rats like to live along the lake and river banks as well as in marshy areas. As herbivores, they feed on aquatic grasses or crops in cane plantations; hence their name. Cane rats are very fast on land, and they are also great swimmers despite their heavy appearance.
These large rats are sturdy-looking animals with solid and stock bodies. Along with that, these rodents have thick legs and powerful claws with five digits in front and four in the back. The unique thing about them is that their skin very thin which tears easily but also heals quickly. Also, they have scaly tails and small ears along with large chisel-like incisors. Those powerful incisors allow them to cut grasses like scissors; hence the nickname Grass Cutter.
There are two species of cane rats, both of which are sources of food due to their protein. Apart from hunting in the wild, there are also breeding farms of cane rats for meat production as well. These rats grow fast, and they are very cheap to keep and raise. Plus with the fact there is already a market for them, finding cane rat meat in restaurants is common in Africa. This is also one of the meals that you should not miss when you visit Africa, if you dare.
Size: 40 – 60 centimeters (16 – 24 inches)
Also goes by the name Nutria, coypu is one of the largest rodents in the world. Looks like a beaver but with a different tail, coypu is a large semiaquatic rodent native to South America. These rodents live in burrows along the waters where they also feed on river plant stems. Coypu either build their own burrows or occupy the ones abandoned by beavers, muskrats, and other animals. Usually, they live in freshwater marshes but you will also find them in brackish marshes or salt marshes as well.
The interesting thing about coypu is that the female can become pregnant again the day after she gives birth. In fact, a female coypu can become pregnant three times a year if timed properly, with 130 days of gestation. The newborn is fully furred with open eyes, and they can eat vegetation within hours of birth. After being under the mother’s care and nursing for about 7-8 weeks, they will leave and start a life of their own.
Apart from being a very fascinating rodent, coypus cause quite an impact on wetlands. Both their homes and diets cause changes and damage to the ecosystem. Their burrows undermine the banks of dykes and rivers which lead to instability. As for their feeding on rhizomes and young shoots or marsh plants, it can cause plant community breakdown. This can also lead to erosion in coastal habitats such as sand dune erosion as well.
Size: 45 – 75 centimeters (18 inches)
People always describe them as rodents that look like hares or rabbits with long legs, which is true. Maras have large ears and eyes along with a blunt muzzle, and have very long slender legs. Those sexy legs allow them to run as fast as 29 km/h (18 mph) or faster which is quite swift. Just like most large rodents, Maras also have stocky bodies. There are 3 sharp digits on their hind feet and 4 digits on their forefeet. Sometimes they hop just like rabbits while other times they gallop or bounce on all fours.
Maras are strictly monogamous, and they mate for life. Each year, a Mara couple has between 1 to 3 offspring. Their babies are well-developed when they are born, and they start grazing within the first 24 hours of their life. These rodents are very active during the day, and they spend long periods of time basking in the sun. This is why they prefer to live in arid grasslands and brushlands with large open spaces. Not different from most rodents, Maras are herbivores so they feed mainly on fruit and vegetation.
4Gambian Pouched Rat
Size: 50 – 90 centimeters (20 – 35 inches)
I have seen and touched a rat of this species before, and they are large. These large African rodents are characterized by the cheek pouches that they use for carrying food for eating or storing. Their habitats include forests and woodlands such as gardens and orchards. The interesting thing is that they are different from most other rodents because they are omnivores. This one feeds on crabs, insects, seeds, snails, vegetables, and more.
Gambian pouched rats have very poor eyesight but an incredible sense of hearing and smell. This is the reason why an organization trains them to sniff explosives, mines, and even tuberculosis. Their work never goes wrong, and these rats are very hard-working. This is how I learned and met these large rodents, and it was an amazing experience. Despite the fact that they become an invasive species in some areas, these rodents are still one fascinating animals.
Size: 60 – 90 centimeters (25 – 36 inches)
The almighty porcupines are not only among the largest rodents but also the most dangerous rodents. Well, you can easily tell that they are not the type of rodents that you want to handle like hamsters. The coat of quills or spines sends a clear message that porcupines are not an easy meal. Their quills can be as long as nearly a foot, but they lie flat until the porcupine is threatened. Those quills have sharp tips and overlapping barbs that make them very difficult to remove once stuck on the skin.
These spiky rodents are good climbers, and some even have prehensile (gripping) tails that make climbing safer. The ones in North and South America spend most of their time in trees. Because they feed on wood, porcupines have large front teeth that allow for convenient eating. Porcupines eat natural barks and stems, and they have been known to invade campgrounds and chew on canoe paddles. Apart from wood, porcupines also feed on fruit, leaves, and springtime buds as well. As for the porcupines who live in Africa, Asia, and Europe, they live on the ground in deserts, forests, and grasslands.
Fact: Porcupines cannot shoot their quills at predators at all. However, those quills do detach easily when touched, and the new quills will grow to replace the ones they lose. You can admire their beauty safely from afar, and they are pretty calm animals actually.
Size: 80 – 120 centimeters (31 – 47 inches)
The special thing about beavers is that they are semiaquatic rodents, spending their life inhabiting freshwater areas. Beavers are the second largest rodents in the world, and they have a great reputation as builders. These rodents use their strong and long chisel-like scissors to chew down trees to build dams and lodges. Beavers are very territorial, and they mark their areas using scent mounts made of debris, castoreum, mud, and urine-based substance.
The dams they build impound water while the lodges are their shelters. This is why you will find them in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. These large rodents are great swimmers thanks to their large rear feet and paddle-shaped tails. This combination allows them to go up to 5 miles per hour. Also, they can stay underwater for 15 minutes without surfacing while their transparent eyelids function as goggles.
Because they are monogamous, beavers live together as a family with their offspring. When the baby beavers are old enough, they will also play a part in helping their parents with building and repairing. Beavers are herbivores, and they feed on aquatic plants, brush, grass, sedges, and tree bark. Their fur is naturally waterproof, and that is why people hunted them for their fur. Some hunt them for meat while others for castoreum that use in food flavoring, medicine, and perfume.
Size: 106 – 134 centimeters (3.4 – 4.4 feet)
This is the largest rodents in the world, and capybara is a very interesting animal as well. These giant rodents share a lot of characteristics with beavers but are more fascinating at some point. Just like beavers, capybaras are strong swimmers thanks to their webbed toes that help with paddling. Since they live near bodies of water, the ability to swim is very beneficial for them.
You can find these semiaquatic mammals in Central and South America. Usually, they live in groups of 10 to 20 or as large as 100 individuals. Capybaras are very shy despite their size, and they spend most of the day resting under cover. Since they are herbivores, these large rodents feed on aquatic plants, fruits, grasses, and tree bark.
Apart from normal food, capybaras eat their own poop in the morning as breakfast. That is because the grasses that they eat are hard to digest and their poop is rich in protein. By eating their own waste, it somehow allows them to digest it twice. Double protein doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Sometimes they also regurgitate food to masticate again, cute but a little weird.
Capybaras have this chilling appearance, and they look like they seem not to care much. However, these rodents are always on alert especially when they swim. The waters that they swim in also provide opportunities for caimans while the lands are full of jaguars and pumas. As prey to these predators, being alert is very important and life-saving.
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