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Water Tales – The World’s Largest Rodent

One of the stories that truly interested me during my trip into the Amazon was that of the Phoberomy Pattersoni, a giant rodent that roamed the waters of Venezuela some eight million years ago.  This engrossing story was related to me by my Pemon Indian guide, Antonio. 

It seems that this rodent, pictured as the size of a modern buffalo, weighed over 1500 pounds or 700 kilograms, had a long tail for balancing his heavy body and had teeth that were constantly growing.  It is speculated that these teeth were used to cut wood, much like those of a beaver, and that they could also have been used in fighting—something I am sure that most animals millions of years ago did—just for survival.  Resembling today’s guinea pigs and 15 times heavier than the largest living rodent today, the Phoberomy’s diet consisted of sea grass and other water plants.

The odd thing about Antonio’s story is that the water necessary for the Phoberony to live in is now an arid region in the northwestern area of Venezuela where his remains, said to belong to the Upper Miocene Period, were found.  The Phoberomy’s remains are not the first oversized creature to have been discovered in this area—the remains of huge hook-beaked birds, as well as giant sloths have been found.  Biologists love to study the forests of Venezuela because most of the flora and fauna found there have developed in isolation from the rest of the planet due to the discovery that South America was cut off from the rest of the world until about 3,000,000 years ago when the isthmus of Panama emerged connecting it to Central & North America.  As such, the island of South America was home to giant mammalian groups; it is believed that some of these specimens actually survived until mankind came on the scene.

One of the facets of this ancient discovery that interested me is that of proportion; obviously, as the animal world evolves their bodies evolve in proportion to what will be needed in relationship to the grazing lands and water surrounding them.  Antonio told me that the Phoberomy had rear legs that were much more powerful than its forelegs, much like our 2 lb. guinea pig of today.

Antonio led our group through the forest, which included waterfalls, tempes and large areas of water grasses.  I could just picture our coming upon one of these rodents—not my most favorite species of animals in the first place—popping up in our path.  Like any cruiser, we have had our own personal battle with mice and rats on board our trawler, Swan Song.  It is specifically because of the tearing teeth of rodents that they do so much damage.  We were hauled out several years ago when a family of growing mice decided that our newly installed hoses were just what their family needed to survive—some $2,000 and several weeks later we had finally sent the last of them to that lovely rodent heaven in the sky but their presence certainly dented our schedule as well as our pocket book.

With each new twist and turn in the river, Antonio paddled his historic canoe around bends and seemed to enlarge the tales of the Phoberomy as he saw our interest increase.  Taking us back to our home station at Jungle Rudy’s Resort, he left us to have lunch in their restaurant, which is filled with wall hangings of the animals and wildlife that roam the Amazon today.  As we ordered our food our group speculated on how large their restaurant walls would have to be to contain a Phoberomy’s hide today.  It was decided that they would most definitely have to hire a construction company to construct a wall on which to contain it.

Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 23 years.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.

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