The Princess Bride has always been one of my favorite movies, and since I usually have a pretty good handle of the likes and dislikes of my readers, I am sure a lot of you really dig this flick too! One of the most memorable scenes (among many!) are Westley and the Princess’s encounter with the “Rodents of Unusual Size” in the Fire Swamp.
Recently, scientists may have discovered proof that such creatures actually exist, or at least did at one time!
Paleontologists have discovered the well-preserved skulls of two mega-rats the size of humans. No, not riding the subway in New York but living 10 million years ago in what is now western Brazil. However, while today’s rats continue to prove to be surprisingly intelligent, these man-sized rodents appear to have had extremely tiny brains.
One of the scientists that made the discovery, José D. Ferreira, in a recent interview with the British news agency SWNS, said they were identified as belonging to the species, Neoepiblema acreensis. “N. acreensis is one of the largest rodents that inhabited South America. It belonged to a diverse group of rodents known as caviomorphs that derived from African forms that rafted to the continent around 50 million years ago. Today’s caviomorphs include the capybaras, porcupines, guinea pigs and chinchillas, among several others.”
Ferreira went on to say that this rare species of giant rats outweighed modern 8-ounce brown rats by 179.5 pounds!
One of the well-preserved skulls yielded another shocking find – the brain of this real-world Rodent of Unusual Size weighed only 4 ounces (and possibly as little as 1.7 ounces), giving it a “very low encephalization quotient compared to other rodents.” The encephalization quotient is the ratio between the expected size of an animal and the actual size of its brain. For comparison, humans have an average EQ of approximately 6, while most rodents in South America have an EQ of 1.05. If you haven’t yet done the math, N. acreensis had an EQ of 0.3, making it big, but very, very dumb!
- acreensis didn’t need a big brain because it had no real enemies (a lesson for modern times?) like big cats, wolves, bears or humans. Its only predators were crocodiles and it could easily react to and outrun them without too much thinking. That all changed when the Isthmus of Panama formed around 2.8 million years ago and the beasts from up north came south in the Great American Biotic Interchange. Like American tourists flocking to Brazil today, the primary thing they did was eat, and the primary things they ate were the meatiest, tastiest and easiest to catch creatures – like big dumb rats.
As a result, N. acreensis quickly became extinct before it could evolve a larger brain to outwit, outplay and outlast the competition.
Big bodies, tiny brains – that is basically how the Princess and Westly outwitted and escaped the Rodents of Unusual Size in the Fire Swamp!