Sunday, August 24, 2014

Neochoerus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This week we will be looking at one of the largest rodents to ever live.  Check out Neochoerus pinkneyi!  Neochoerus was a species of giant capybara that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, as recently as 11 thousand years ago, in what is now the Southern United States.  Like its modern relatives, this massive rodent would have probably eaten water plants.  It measured about six feet long from snout to rump and could have weighed as much as two hundred pounds!  The genus name, Neochoerus, translates to "new pig".  It wasn't a pig was a I already said.

Neochoerus herd.  Reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Even though the Pleistocene is famous for being an ice age, filled with woolly beasts majestically roaming snowy tundras, parts of the world, especially near the equator like Neochoerus' habitat, were still relatively warm.  In fact, the area of the Southern United States that Neochoerus was roaming around in at the time was mostly floodplain, similar to the everglades in Florida today.  This makes sense for a giant capybara since we know their modern relatives thrive in wet environments.  They are adept swimmers and even have semi webbed toes.  Neochoerus would have coexisted with many other giant beasts like Glyptodon, giant ground sloths, mammoths, giant bison, a species of giant beaver, and even humans!  Back in the Pleistocene, seeing a R.O.U.S. wouldn't really have been unusual at all!

Modern capybaras are known to be social animals and are often found in large groups.  Unlike those of many animals, capybara jaws can chew side to side, which helps since they eat so much tough plant material.  Capybaras are also commonly hunted by all sorts of predators.  Jaguars, anacondas, and even humans frequently rely on the large rodents for food on a regular basis.  Back in the Pleistocene, Neochoerus may have been preyed upon by many predators as well.  Pumas and sabre-tooth cats are known to have lived during that time.  Prehistoric humans also likely hunted them.

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment on our facebook page or below.


Baskin, Jon A.; Thomas, Ronny G. "South Texas and the Great American Interchange". Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions 57: 37–45.

Kurtén, Björn and Anderson, Elaine. 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York, p. 274. ISBN 0-231-03733-3

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