The twenty-four hour activity cycle of captive coypus was investigated by direct visual observation, automatic recording and by measuring the amount of faeces eliminated at hourly intervals. Coypus were active from just before sunset and the “Zeitgeber” or cue for activity onset may be declining light. The activity period usually ended before sunrise and the interval between the end of the period and dawn was inversely related to temperature. The animals fed and defaecated throughout the active period and 80–86 % of the faecal pellets were produced in water. Refection started shortly after the end of the feeding period, when the animals had returned to the nest, and continued until an hour or two after midday.
A model is suggested which involves two passages of food through the gut and a cycle length of 24 hours from ingestion to defaecation. The feeding and defaecation periods were equal in duration, but the refection period was 40% shorter. Hypothetically this may be due to a caecum by-pass mechanism during the second passage of food through the gut so that the defaecation period, like the feeding period, is controlled by the rate at which food passes through the pyloric sphincter. In contrast the period of refection may be controlled by the rate at which food remains are voided from the caecum. Coypus spent the pre-dawn and daylight hours on nests and in contact with familiar conspecifics. These behaviours may have the function of temperature maintenance in the coldest part of the night and of avoiding diurnal predators.