Another striking feature of capybara is their unpaired, ever-growing cheek teeth whose very complicated occlusal surface design changes throughout the capybara’s life. Capybaras like horses and rabbits have high crowned teeth, known as hypsodont teeth, an adaptation to extend the life of teeth and therefore the life of the animal. In these teeth the roots delay their development and the crown keeps on growing throughout the life of the animal. In capybaras the occlusal morphology of their cheek teeth is so peculiar that a special nomenclature (system of names) had to be developed to describe them! This very intricate occlusal surface design grows more complex throughout the capybara’s life. They are able to reduce the plants they eat to very small particles which aids the absorption of nutrients. Capybara teeth are razor sharp.
In the wild, in their natural habitat, capybaras eat primarily grasses, sage and aquatic plants. They also chew on the bark of trees and bushes. These coarse foods ensure the health of capybara teeth. It is essential for capybaras who are kept in captive environments, such as zoos or as pets, to have a diet which replicates as closely as possible their natural diet in the wild. This means they must have access to coarse foods. Several pet capybaras have died due to tooth problems which developed as a result of the wrong diet. The capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park chew on stones to keep their teeth healthy. They also chew on palm fronds.
Capybaras often chew on stones, bark or twigs to keep their teeth healthy:
With hypsodont teeth the roots delay their development and the crown keeps on growing throughout the life of the animal. Hypsodonty is an adaptation to extend the life of the teeth and thereby the life of the animal. Rates of tooth decay may be influenced by eating more abrasive plant tissues, or plants on which wear inducing particles such as windblown grit adhering to the surface of the plant. Hypsodonty is also related to open environments in which animals feed closer to the ground.