Taxonomy, natural history and distribution of the capybara
Moreira JR., Alvarez MR., Tarifa T., Pacheco V., Taber A., Tirira DG., Herrera EA., Ferraz KMPMB., Aldana-Domínguez J., Macdonald DW.
© 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York. All rights are reserved. When the Iberian colonists arrived in South America in the late fifteenth century, they encountered a diverse and previously unimagined fauna. The unusual anatomy and behavior of these species intrigued the early explorers. In their reports they named the new-found endemic animals after the most analogous European species. In 1576, for example, Pero de Gândavo (2004) described the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) as a type of pig. However, capybaras were sufficiently unlike any known European species for most explorers to simply adopt a phonetic representation of the local name. Therefore, in 1557, the capybara was called catiuare by the German Hans Staden (1557), capiyûára in 1560 by the Spaniard José de Anchieta (1997), and capijuara in 1625 by the Portuguese Fernão Cardim (1980). The name capybara actually originates from a word in the indigenous Tupi, which in the sixteenth century was the most widely spread language in South America: kapii'gwara meaning grass eater (ka'pii = grass + gwara = eater; Houaiss et al. 2004).