A rodent is a member of the mammalian order Rodentia, characterized by front teeth adapted for gnawing and cheek teeth adapted for chewing. The Rodentia is by far the largest mammalian order; nearly half of all mammal species are rodents. They are worldwide in distribution and are found in almost every terrestrial and freshwater habitat, from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to the hottest deserts. They are variously adapted for running, jumping, climbing, burrowing, swimming, and gliding. Many of them have dexterous forepaws, which they use as hands while sitting on their haunches in a position characteristic of many rodents. The great majority are under a few inches in length; the largest, the capybara, is about 4 ft (120 cm) long and 20 in. (50 cm) high at the shoulder.
Rodents have enlarged, chisel-shaped upper and lower front incisors that grow throughout their lives. These have hard enamel on the front surface and soft dentine on the back surface, so that unequal wear keeps the chisel edge sharp. There is a gap between the front teeth and the cheek teeth. When the lower jaw is in a forward position, for gnawing, the upper and lower incisors are in contact but the upper and lower cheek teeth are not; thus, wear on the cheek teeth is avoided. The cheeks are drawn in behind the incisors when the animal is gnawing, so that bits of hard material cannot be swallowed. When the lower jaw is pulled back into the chewing position, only the cheek teeth make contact.