What do you first think of when you hear the word “rodent”? Does your mind produce images of cute, cuddly little mice and hamsters? Or do you picture a sewer rat swimming through murky conditions and spreading disease?
One of these two scenarios is what most people imagine. And due to the latter, many people have an extreme aversion to rodents in general. But these two situations aren’t the only place that rodents exist.
In fact, rodents are among some of the most versatile animals on the planet. Rodents actually make up the largest single group of mammals in the animal kingdom. And believe it or not, most non-flying mammals are rodents—making up approximately 1/3 of all mammalian species! They’re found natively on every continent in the world (except Antarctica) and come in all shapes and sizes.
But which rodents are the biggest? We’ll explore some of the largest living rodents in the world today—along with a couple of their ancestors—so you can truly see the breadth of their existence.
The Top 10 Largest Rodents in the World
|Scientific Name:||Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris|
|Where It’s Found:||The Capybara is a native to South America—particularly in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Peru.|
|Length:||This rodent can grow up to 4.4 feet in length and can reach up to 24 inches tall.|
|Weight:||Capybaras can weigh anywhere between 77 to 146 pounds.|
The capybara is currently considered the largest living rodent in the world. This rodent is usually found in semi-aquatic areas and is an excellent swimmer. Their diet consists of grass, fruit, and other aquatic vegetation. And they’ve been known to be a nuisance to indigenous peoples’ gardens and farms.
In many South American countries, capybara meat is considered a delicacy. It’s become a particularly popular exotic dish in Venezuela, served during Easter celebrations.
2. Coypu (Nutria)
|Scientific Name:||Myocastor coypus|
|Where It’s Found:||The coypu is a rodent that can be found in countries with subtropical climates on the continents of North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.|
|Length:||Coypus can grow 2.3 to 3.5 feet.|
|Weight:||They can weigh up to 37 pounds.|
The coypu is a semi-aquatic, herbivorous, burrow-dwelling rodent. It is thought to be native to South America, however, it can also be found in North America, Asia, and Europe. They are believed to have spread throughout the world by stowing themselves away in exploration ships.
They resemble giant rats and can infest rural farm areas. Back in the 1940s, the coypu became a major nuisance to farm owners in England and the United States—particularly in Maryland and Louisiana. By the 1960s, legislation was created to eradicate the destructive coypu rodents.
However, coypu rodents are now being put to good use. Nutria fur is used by many fashion designers including major houses such as Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors. Nutria meat can also be found labeled as ragondin in many dog treats and kibble as a source of lean protein.
|Scientific Name:||Ondatra zibethicus|
|Where It’s Found:||The muskrat can be found in North America, South America, Asia, and Europe.|
|Length:||A fully grown muskrat can grow 1.3 to 2.3 feet in length.|
|Weight:||Muskrats can weigh around 1 to 4.4 pounds|
The muskrat is a semi-aquatic rodent that is considered “medium-sized”, although it can grow quite large in its adult life. These rodents offer a very important contribution to their ecosystems, providing a stable source of food for natural predators such as minks, eagles, and otters. They’re also a staple of fur and food for people.
The Native Americans have always considered muskrats an important part of their life. Some groups believe that muskrats can predict the level of snowfall in the winter by looking at the rodent’s size and the timing of their lodge construction.
4. Patagonian Mara
|Scientific Name:||Dolichotis patagonum|
|Where It’s Found:||Patagonian maras are mostly found in Patagonia and Argentina.|
|Length:||A Patagonian mara grows about 2.3 to 2.5 feet from its head to its body. Their tails grow to around 4-5 cm long.|
|Weight:||A fully grown Patagonian mara can weigh between 18 and 35 pounds.|
The Patagonian mara is another very large type of rodent. It’s also known as the “Patagonian cavy”, the “dillaby”, and the “Patagonian hare” (mainly because it somewhat looks like a rabbit). They are herbivorous rodents and are mostly found in open habitat regions of Patagonia and Argentina.
Patagonian maras are very interesting rodents because of their unique social organization. They have a monogamous and communal way of breeding. Monogamous pairs will stay together for life. Breeding pairs of Patagonian maras can be alone but are more commonly found within warrens. Each warren can be shared by up to 30 pairs of Patagonian mara mates. In a single year, wild female Patagonian maras produce only one litter. However, farmed maras can produce up to four litters.
Recently, Patagonian maras have been considered a threatened species. They have been affected by habitat alteration and hunting. A growing number of poachers hunt down and catch Patagonian mara for their skins as they are used to make rugs and bedspreads. Due to this, they have been mostly eradicated in the province of Buenos Aires.
5. Cape Porcupine
|Scientific Name:||Hystrix africaeaustralis|
|Where It’s Found:||Cape porcupines are found in Africa—primarily in the countries of Kenya, Congo, and Uganda.|
|Length:||The body can grow from 2.1 to 2.7 feet, while its tail can grow around 4 to 8 inches long.|
|Weight:||Male cape porcupines can weigh up to 37 pounds, and females up to 41 pounds.|
The Cape porcupine is currently the largest living rodent species found in Africa. Not only that, but it is also the largest porcupine in the world. They are found in a wide range of habitats, from dry deserts to dense forests. In savannah terrains, these rodents are known to create chambers in grassy areas to make birthing dens.
The cape porcupine can grow its spines to around 20 inches long and use them as an immensely powerful defense mechanism. Fortunately for birthing mothers, when cape porcupines are born, their spikes are actually very soft and harden as they are exposed to air.
Cape porcupines usually live approximately 15 years in the wild—which is unusually long for rodents. They usually feed on mostly plant materials such as roots, fruits, tubers, bark, and bulbs.
6. South African Springhare
|Scientific Name:||Pedetes capensis|
|Where It’s Found:||This rodent is native to South Africa.|
|Length:||The South African springhare grows roughly 1.1 to 1.5 feet. The tail can grow from 1.2 to 1.5 feet long.|
|Weight:||An adult South African hare can weigh up to 6.6 pounds.|
The South African springhare is not a hare as its name implies, but is instead a large and peculiar rodent. It received its name because of its ability to leap over 6 feet in just a single bound. It even looks like a strange kangaroo-rodent hybrid.
South African springhares are known to be nocturnal but have been seen being active during the daytime. However, they usually stay inside tunnels that they dig themselves when the sun is out. You’ll find them building their tunnels during the rainy season when the soil is wet and easy to dig. But when night falls, these strange creatures will emerge from their tunneled homes on the hunt for food.
7. Bosavi Woolly Rats
|Scientific Name:||Yet to be published.|
|Where It’s Found:||The Bosavi woolly rat has recently been discovered in Papua New Guinea.|
|Length:||This rodent can grow up to 32 inches in length.|
|Weight:||Bosavi woolly rats can weigh to up 13 pounds.|
The Bosavi woolly rat is one of the most recently discovered rodent species. The first encounter was in 2009 when a team of researchers found the rat within the Bosavi Crater in Papua New Guinea. This is also believed to have been the first encounter these rats have ever had with humans.
When the first Bosavi woolly rat was found, it measured 32 inches long, making it one of the largest existing rodents in the world. And it’s currently the world’s largest living rat species.
More exploration and studies are now being done to find out more about this newly found rodent.
8. North American Beaver
|Scientific Name:||Castor canadensis|
|Where It’s Found:||North American beavers are native to North America, but other similar species can also be found in South America and Europe.|
|Length:||They can grow up to 3 feet long. Their tail can grow up to 14 inches long.|
|Weight:||This rodent can weigh around 24 to 71 pounds.|
The North American beaver has an impressive long body which makes it one of the largest rodents in the world. And its long, flat tail also enables it to swim through the water with ease. This helps the Native American beaver navigate rivers and other bodies of water where it usually spends most of its time.
One of the most impressive skills of the North American beaver is controlling its environment by building dams. Their sturdy front teeth work like chisels in carving logs which are later used to block rivers. After creating these dams, these beavers then construct semi-flooded structures known as lodges in which they live and house their young.
|Scientific Name:||Josephoartigasia monesi|
|Where It’s Found:||Uruguay|
|Length:||The Josephoartigasia reached roughly 10 feet long.|
|Weight:||It is believed that Josephoartigasia weighed more than 2,000 lbs|
Now extinct, the Josephoartigasia is considered to be the largest rodent to ever exist. Its fossils were found in Uruguay in 2007 when a skull was discovered. Researchers said that Josephoartigasia lived in a wet environment and fed on grasses and other crop vegetation.
This rodent is believed to have gone extinct after the Great American Interchange when animals from the continents of North and South America became able to breed with one another in the Mid-Cenozoic Era during the Neogene Period. And there are only theories as to why their extinction happened.
Many researchers believe climate change to be the major factor that caused their disappearance.
10. Giant Hutia
|Where It’s Found:||Fossils of Giant Hutia have been found in the West Indies.|
|Weight:||Estimated to have weighed between 110 lbs and 440 lbs|
The giant hutia — officially named Ambyrhiza — was a native rodent of the West Indies. They are believed to have lived more than 100,000 years ago in the Caribbean. Based on their skull size, they are considered to be one of the largest rodents to ever exist.
Fossils discovered of the giant hutia can be larger than the size of a fully grown human. Because of its extremely large size, it is believed that the giant hutia moved slowly and was free of predators. And according to fossil records, there are no known competing mammals that lived during its existence.
There are smaller direct descendants of the giant hutia found on the Caribbean islands today, but they only weigh around 5 pounds.
Are There Other Giant Rodents?
Although there probably aren’t any car-sized rodents left in the world today, that doesn’t mean other giant rodents aren’t out there lurking. Remember, the Bosavi woolly rat was just recently discovered.
We’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled for any other rodents of larger stature in the years to come.
Featured Image Credit: Hippopx