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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Super Mammal

Air Date: Week of September 19, 2003

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on the world's largest rodent.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up: environmental protection and national security. The promise of peace parks. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

   An artist's rendering of Phoberomys pattersoni, a giant rodent, roughly the size of a buffalo, that roamed the banks of an ancient Venezuelan river some 8 million years ago. The illustration was made according to the scientists’ approximation of what P. pattersoni looked like. (Credit: © Science / Illustration: Carin L. Cain)

GRABER: Scientists recently identified the world’s biggest guinea pig. The rodent called Phoberomys pattersoni lived about eight million years ago along the banks of a massive Venezuelan river that has since run dry. At about 1500 pounds, this guinea pig was roughly as large as today’s buffalo.

Scientists describe it as a huge, strange-looking creature, with a long tail so it could balance on its bent hind legs, and constantly growing teeth. No one knows why the rodent reached this immense size, or why it disappeared. But scientists say it gives a new glimpse into life along ancient tropical South American Rivers.

Fossiliferous exposures of the formation found in the town of Urumaco, Venezuela. (Photo courtesy of Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra)   

South America had been an island for tens of millions of years before a land bridge arose about three million years ago, connecting it to Central America. Because of this, South America’s animals evolved in isolation. The continent was home to a variety of super-sized mammals. Now scientists can add a giant rodent to the roster.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Cynthia Graber.

 

 

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