Which is heavier: your hamster or your car?

The skull of the giant rodent, next to a common rat | Image: CNN/Royal Society As if the former holder of the title World’s Largest Rodent wasn’t heavy enough, weighing in at 750kg (1500 pounds), scientists in Uruguay have now found remains of a mega-rodent (the same group as hamsters, rats and guinea pigs) as heavy as a small car: 1000 kg (2200 pounds). It lived along Uruguay’s southern coast 3 million years ago.

Just a little bit bigger than your hamster then. And 20 times bigger than the largest rodent around today, the Capybara, weighing in at 50kg.

So why was it so big? There are advantages to being big, like being able to eat less digestible foods like wood or leaves that other animals would take too long to digest. Scientists believe there was an influx of mammals into South America 3 million years ago, because for the previous 62 million years South America had been an island, until the Panama land bridge formed. The giant rodent (Josephoartigasia monesi) would have lived alongside so-called ‘terror birds’, as well as saber-toothed cats and giant armored mammals.

Uruguay's southern coast, home of the giant rodent
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