April 1st, 2011

Yale Scientists Discover Prehistoric Man-Sized Prairie Dog

Giant Prairie DogA recent scientific discovery in Washington State suggests that North America once harbored large colonies of giant, man-sized rodents — distant cousins to today’s prairie dogs. Earlier this month, while searching for dinosaur fossils, a field team of Yale University paleontologists uncovered a startling find — the skull of a massive prehistoric rodent, along with other skeletal remains.

The skull, nearly the size of a horse’s head, is almost identical in form to the skull of a modern-era prairie dog, though it is is more than 50 times as large. Apparently today’s Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs had some very large predecessors. Based on the size of the skull and other bones, scientists estimate that the giant prairie dogs could stand up to 7′ tall and weigh up to 350 pounds. In other words, this critter was man-sized. The giant rodents lived much like modern prairie dogs do today — grazing on vegetation and nesting underground in burrows. The giant skull was unearthed in Washington’s Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. View More: Mima Mounds Aerial photo.

Giant Prairie Dog

Mystery of Mima Mounds Finally Solved
Southwest of Seattle, near Littlerock, Washington, you’ll find the Mima Mounds, a vast field of clustered earthen mounds covering over 600 acres. Since their discovery (by whites) in the 18th century, the Mima Mounds have confounded scientific explanation — until now that is. The location of the giant prairie dog skull and bones inside one of the Mima Mounds indicates, with great certainty, that the mound field was created by a large colony of giant burrowing rodents. Scientists now believe that the Mima Mounds area is a prehistoric prairie dog field, created by the creatures scientists have nicknamed “Big Dogs”.

Giant Prairie Dog

Giant Prairie DogNW Indian Legends Spoke of Giant Prairie Dogs
The presence of the giant prairie dogs at Mima Mounds is confirmed by Northwestern Indian legends describing a giant burrowing beast that stood as tall as a man, when raised on its hind legs. Researchers, who transcribed oral histories of the Sauk-Suiattle tribe, have recorded numerous references to a large, man-sized creature that burrowed underground. In the Suiattle language the beast was called “Chok-lahtle-wachook”, which, literally translated, means “Standing Man-Mouse”. A number of ancient Indian carvings and artifacts have depicted this creature (see photo at right), but cultural historians had not understood their significance. For decades the historians presumed Chok-lahtle-wachook was a wholly fictional man-beast, not a real species. Such mythical hybrid creatures are commonly revered as important totemic spirits by many Native American cultures. However, it now appears that Chok-lahtle-wachook really existed, and did so in great numbers.

Can Science Revive the Giant Prairie Dog?
The discovery of the giant prairie dog has electrified the scientific community because it appears that bone samples may contain recoverable DNA. And that means — you guessed it — there is a small chance that Chok-lahtle-wachook could be cloned. Geneticist Amy Moorwall of the Univ. of Washington explains: “These are not 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones. This creature lived in relatively recent times, so there is much more genetic material remaining that hasn’t completely fossilized. Initial inspection of bone marrow samples suggest that there may be viable, complete DNA strands that could be recovered. If that’s true, this could be one of our first opportunities to revive an extinct species.”

Giant Prairie DogVarmint Hunters Hope for Successful Cloning
Could Chok-lahtle-wachook once again stand tall upon America’s prairies through the application of modern genetic cloning technology? If so, that would be exciting news for the nation’s hunting community. Varmint hunting is hugely popular in North America, and the possibility of bagging a man-sized prairie dog would be a dream come true for avid varminters. Ryan Stanley of the Varmint Hunters’ Association (VHA) told us that his members hope that the giant prairie dog could be cloned successfully: “The VHA would definitely support a cloning effort. I bet we could raise the money to do it. Many of our members spend countless days, over many seasons, trying to earn a 1000-yard patch, signifying a confirmed varmint kill at 1000 yards. Getting that patch, for a varminter, is like a baseball player making it into Cooperstown. Needless to say, if VHA members have a chance to shoot at a 7-foot-tall, 300-pound varmint, instead of a puny little prairie dog, many more of our members will finally earn their 1000-yard patch.”

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