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Old 2008-01-17, 18:02   #1
ewmayer
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Default Holy Beaverpotamus, Batman!

Bull-Sized Rodent Fossil found in Uruguay
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By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 17, 2008


LONDON — Imagine a rodent that weighed a ton and was as big as a bull.
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Reuters

An illustration shows the head of the newly-found Josephoartigasia monesi, top, in comparison to a South American rodent known as a pakarana.

Uruguayan scientists say they have uncovered fossil evidence of the biggest species of rodent ever found, one that scurried across wooded areas of South America about four million years ago, when the continent was not connected to North America.

A herbivore, the beast may have been a contemporary, and possibly prey, of saber-toothed cats — a prehistoric version of Tom and Jerry.

Its huge skull, more than 20 inches long, suggested a beast more than eight feet long and weighing between 1,700 and 3,000 pounds.

Although British newspapers variously described it as a mouse or a rat, researchers say the animal, named Josephoartigasia monesi, actually was more closely related to a guinea pig or porcupine. “These are totally different from the rats and mice we’re accustomed to,” said Bruce Patterson, the curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, adding that it was the biggest rodent that he had ever heard of.

An artist’s rendering showed a creature that looked like a cross between a hippopotamus and a guinea pig.

The fossil was found in 1987 about 65 miles west of the capital, Montevideo, near the vast River Plate estuary — a muddy waterway separating Uruguay from Argentina that empties into the South Atlantic. That area is the site of ancient riverbanks and other deposits where fossils have been found, Mr. Patterson said.

An Argentine fossil collector identified as Sergio Viera donated the skull to Uruguay’s National History and Anthropology Museum nearly two decades ago, said the museum’s director, Arturo Toscano.

It spent years hidden away in a box at the museum and was rediscovered by a curator, Andrés Rinderknecht, who enlisted the help of a fellow researcher, Ernesto Blanco, to study it.

Mr. Blanco said he was shocked when he first came face to face with the fossil, saying it looked even bigger than a cow skull. “It’s a beautiful piece of nature,” he said in an interview. “You feel the power of a very big animal behind this.”

The research by Mr. Rinderknecht and Mr. Blanco was published Wednesday in this week’s issue of a biological research journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Mr. Blanco said the skull’s shape and the huge incisors left no doubt that they were dealing with a rodent, but he cautioned that the estimate of the animal’s bulk was imprecise.

The extinct rodent clearly outclassed its nearest rival, the Phoberomys, found in Venezuela and estimated to weigh between 880 and 1,500 pounds.

Mr. Blanco said the rodent was far bigger than any South American rodent alive today, surpassing the present-day capybara, which can weigh up to 110 pounds.

He said the animal’s teeth pointed to a diet of aquatic plants.

“From what we can tell, we know it was a herbivore that lived on the shores of rivers or alongside streams in woodland areas,” Mr. Rinderknecht said. “Possibly it had a behavior similar to other water-faring rodents that exist today, such as beavers, which split their time between land and water.”
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Old 2008-03-12, 20:57   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ewmayer View Post
Bull-Sized Rodent Fossil found in Uruguay
...Although British newspapers variously described it as a mouse or a rat, researchers say the animal, named Josephoartigasia monesi, actually was more closely related to a guinea pig or porcupine...
Yes, you can see the resemblance between the article's illustration of the animal's head and a guinea pig's head, can't you? Can anyone find a picture of a guinea pig's head to compare it with?
I wonder if the huge rodent had the same intriguing behaviour as modern day guinea pigs? (I don't know so much about porcupines.)
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Old 2008-03-14, 12:48   #3
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There's this image in my mind of huge bull-sized animals following each other around nose to backside making rumbling noises, or squeaking and twittering, or waving a juicy leaf around in the air to stop their comrades pinching it from them.

And only four million years ago - that's very recent. I guess my fantasy about their behaviour is probably just that, but I do wish someone could have recorded these animals on film back then.
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Old 2008-03-14, 17:48   #4
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Wonder how big a running wheel for one of these mega-gerbils would have been? ;)

Perhaps Gerbil-in_Chief Xyzzy has some thoughts on this, and also insights on habitrail construction for such a beast.
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Old 2008-03-14, 19:19   #5
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The Gerbil(s) never figured the wheel out.

We even bought a super expensive ball-bearing model but all they did was chew on it.
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