Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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19-Sep-2003

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Guinea-zilla? World's largest rodent

Journalist: Please note the mandatory image credit.



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. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this illustration of P. pattersoni. It must be noted, however, that many questions remain. Journalist: Please note the mandatory image credit. Image © Science / Illustration: Carin L. Cain.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Roughly the size of a buffalo, a giant rodent that roamed the banks of an ancient Venezuelan river some 8 million years ago, dining on sea grass and dodging crocodiles, was an evolutionary sibling to modern-day guinea pigs.



Fossiliferous exposures of the formation found in the town of Urumaco, Venezuela. Image courtesy of Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

The largest rodent that ever lived, Phoberomys pattersoni, weighed about 1,545 pounds (700 kilograms) -- more than 10 times the size of today's rodent heavyweight, the 110-pound (50 kilograms) capybara.

The creature had ever-growing teeth, a long tail for balancing on its hind legs, and no fear of water, according to Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra from the University of Tübingen, in Germany, and his colleagues in Venezuela and the United States. Discovered in a now-arid region 250 miles west of Caracas, Venezuela, the creature's fossilized remains offer rare new clues to the Upper Miocene period in northwestern Venezuela.

A related Perspective proposes that, when standing on four legs, P. pattersoni "would have looked much more like a buffalo than like a scaled-up guinea pig." These findings are published in the 19 September 2003 issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the science society.

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