Experts say skull from South America shows largest rodent ever to have lived used teeth like tusks

By Ben Miller | 09 February 2015

Buffalo-sized rodent used teeth to dig and fend off predators, say experts studying skull of South American specimen

Josephoartigasia monesi fossils© Andres Rinderknecht / Ernesto Blanco
With the bite force of a tiger and powerful incisors capable of acting similarly to an elephant’s tusks, the largest rodent ever to have lived weighed 1,000kg and was the size of a buffalo, according to scientists and archaeologists using computer modelling in York.

A close relation of guinea pigs, the Josephoartigasia monesi lived in South America around 3,000 years ago. CT scans and a virtual reconstruction of the skull of one specimen, carried out at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, have expanded upon an initial analysis carried out by experts in Montevideo seven years ago.

Artist's impression of Josephoartigasia monesi© James Gurney
“We concluded that Josephoartigasia must have used its incisors for activities other than biting, such as digging in the ground for food or defending itself from predators,” says Dr Philip Cox, of the Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences research centre in York.

“This is very similar to how a modern day elephant uses its tusks.”

Finite element analysis – an engineering technique used to predict stress and strain in complex geometric objects – informed the research, which has been published in the Journal of Anatomy.

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Digital reconstruction of the skull of the Josephoartigasia monesi© Dr Philip Cox
© Dr Philip Cox
Comparison of a silhouette of Josephoartigasia monesi with a person and a drawing of a pacarana, its closest living relative © Andres Rinderknecht / Ernesto Blanco
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