Archaeologists have unearthed a fossil of a giant guinea pig. It weighed about 1500 pounds and stood 4 feet tall. They found it back in 2000 in Venezuela, but I just heard about it. I thought I’d fill you in on it in case you didn’t hear about it, either.
Who Found What?
Researchers at Venezuela’s Universidad Nacional Experimental Francisco de Miranda led an expedition in northwestern Venezuela about 250 miles west of Caracas. They dug through layers of coal and shale when they found a fossil of a very large guinea pig. Well, technically, it’s considered to be an extinct cousin of today’s guinea pigs.
It was scientifically named Phoberomys pattersoni, and it was more than 4 feet tall and 9 feet long. The scientists who found it named it Goya, though, after the area where they found it. They estimated that it weighed over 1500 pounds (a typical cow weighs 1500 pounds).
When they dated it, they determined that it lived about 8 million years ago, or during the fourth epoch of the Tertiary Period. It probably foraged along riverbanks and was partially aquatic. It had the ever-growing teeth that are characteristic of rodents. It also had a long tail which probably helped with balance.
The researchers don’t know why it disappeared, but the fact that it was so large probably means it didn’t burrow. In the wild, guinea pigs naturally run away from predators and hide in burrows.
Since its large size, short legs, and big constitution would make running away quickly pretty darn difficult, it’s likely that it was often someone’s prey. It didn’t seem to have great fighting capabilities (like big claws or strong jaws), either, so predation may have been a factor.
Scientists are wondering why such a large creature evolved to become such a small creature. Obviously, the current small size is more beneficial for the guinea pig’s survival, though, because that’s the way nature works. Survival of the fittest!
Artist Carin Cain drew a picture of what the giant guinea pig might have looked like. Here’s that drawing (source: Science Gate):