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Most people have a love-hate relationship with rodents. That is, people love to hate them. This is a pity since rodents exhibit various interesting talents. For a start, when we think of rodents, we think of rats. Rats certainly have a bad reputation because they thrive in so many environments where nobody wants them. Nevertheless rats are smart and individually very clean. Most rats live less than a year in the wild. Mama rats however are definitely overachievers. They can produce up to seven litters per year with up to twelve young per litter. Nevertheless these supermoms provide excellent care to their offspring. Apparently the ancient Egyptians appreciated rats. In 2001 in Cairo, eight tiny gold plated coffins were found, each with a mummified rat inside. The estimated age of these artifacts is 2300 years old.

The largest rodent in North America (and second on a worldwide basis only to the capybara of South America), is the beaver. Beaver exhibit amazing dam building and architectural talents. Some people declare that beavers are vital for wetland preservation. Obviously clever, beaver are very family oriented. With their sharp teeth, each beaver can cut down an average of 34 trees per year. Their ability to flood large tracts of land, and their tree felling talents, make them unpopular in some quarters.

Porcupines are North America’s second largest rodent, growing up to 10 kg. Their special talent is to grow barbed quills which inflict serious injury to animals that try to bite them. Porcupines enjoy a leisurely lifestyle sitting in trees, munching on pine needles and bark, or aspen leaves.  They can kill the trees, which sometimes makes them unpopular.

Of all the rodents, probably squirrels are the most appealing. They can be found worldwide except for Australia, the Sahara Desert, and southern South America. Squirrels are perky, animated, extremely determined, and of course smart. Of all the small mammals, squirrels enjoy the largest brain size compared to body size. The largest member of the family is the woolly flying squirrel of northern Pakistan, whose length is well over 100 cm. This creature had not been seen for 100 years, but was recently spotted again.

Obviously everybody is interested to a certain extent, in rodents. Dr. Bergman therefore takes us deeper into the topic of the origin of these fascinating creatures.



July 2014

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