The Oldest Rodent
June 14, 2010 12:10 AM   Subscribe

"Aplodontia are mysterious animals, full of biological peculiarities. They have primitive thermoregulation and kidneys, they serve as hosts to world's largest fleas, they live in dense colonies but appear to have no social structure to speak of. We are lucky to have these creatures still with us, lone survivors of times long past."

The quote is from Quest for Aplodontia (linked in the first word, above).

Thankfully I could not find much info about the world's largest flea--other than it seems to be the exclusive problem of these interesting rodents.
posted by maxwelton (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
A friend ended up with one of these guy's burrows in his garden this weekend. It's been more than 30 years since I've seen one despite their being fairly common here in western Washington and that got me poking around.
posted by maxwelton at 12:13 AM on June 14, 2010


Got to feel a bit sorry for a creature that both science and the vernacular seem to insist on misnaming - even before we consider the enormous fleas.
posted by Abiezer at 12:27 AM on June 14, 2010


Thank-you. And if you wanted to start a tradition of "It's obscure mammalian genus third Monday of the month!" I would be right behind you.
posted by cromagnon at 12:50 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


even before we consider the enormous fleas.

Or the shit-eating.
posted by rodgerd at 1:13 AM on June 14, 2010


Interesting. I wonder how they've survived so far - you'd expect that they must have some really good trick or special adaptation which compensates for all their disadvantages, but it doesn't seem obvious what it is. The unique structure in their brains whose function is unknown? The eye secretions which are not tears? Perhaps they have a unique emotion, associated with the shedding of non-tears, and unknown to other mammals. Not sure how that would help.
posted by Phanx at 2:29 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Vladimir Dinets, whose page is the first you linked to, has been everywhere. I'm not sure how he does it, but it seems all he does is travel the world and study nature. Lucky bastard. His site is site is a little outdated but functional, and without a search function, but if you're interested in nature and travel, you should poke around there, or at least check out his bio.
posted by Red Loop at 3:23 AM on June 14, 2010


They have primitive thermoregulation and kidneys,

From the Wikipedia link: Mountain Beavers cannot produce concentrated urine. They are thought to be physiologically restricted to the temperate rain forest regions of the North American Pacific coast and moist microenvironments inland due to their inability to obtain sufficient water in more arid environments.

Obviously, whatever other merits these creatures might have, you don't want to go out drinking with them. The beer goes right through them. Literally.
posted by three blind mice at 3:24 AM on June 14, 2010


The flea is Hystrichopsylla schefferi and the females can apparently grow to more than 1 cm long. It survives exclusively on the mountain beaver.
posted by unSane at 4:30 AM on June 14, 2010


Fascinating, thank you! I think that if I were a mountain beaver, I too would be "crotchety and vicious" towards humans. It doesn't look as though it would have good eyesight, but I'm not in a position to judge.
posted by Stan Carey at 4:57 AM on June 14, 2010


Cool post. Cute little bastards even if they're crotchety and vicious.
posted by octothorpe at 5:26 AM on June 14, 2010


Or the shit-eating.

Hey, they're efficient recyclers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:29 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that if I were a mountain beaver, I too would be "crotchety and vicious" towards humans.

If you are an animal and are not at least a little crotchety and vicious towards humans, you are too optimistic. Or working for the enemy, I suppose.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 AM on June 14, 2010


'If you are an animal and are not at least a little crotchety and vicious towards humans, you are too optimistic. Or working for the enemy, I suppose.'

Indeed. Or working in the enemy. Let us not overlook our internal inhabitants.
posted by Stan Carey at 5:47 AM on June 14, 2010


The eye secretions which are not tears?

Guinea pigs do this too. It helps in grooming, apparently.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:18 AM on June 14, 2010


Autocoprophagy is pretty common in non-ruminant herbivores like rodents.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:36 AM on June 14, 2010


Fascinating, thank you! I think that if I were a mountain beaver, I too would be "crotchety and vicious" towards humans.

My family and I were hiking in Washington about twelve years ago, going up some mountain trail, and we heard some of that ol' underbrush rustling you sometimes hear in such situations. 'Oh boy,' we enthused, 'Wild-life!' Perhaps, we considered, we might spy some black-tailed deer (this was before we saw so many black-tailed deer that we began comparing them to pigeons)! Or, we hoped, something intriguing-- a bear, a bobcat, a porcupine, a wild pig!

Presently a small roundish brown shape appeared up the trail. This was one of those quite narrow, Arlo Guthrie-on-a-motorcycle paths with uphill on one side and downhill on another, no place to go but forward or back on the trail. And now here's this little brown thing, this brush rustler, and it's suddenly coming towards us.

Well what did we do. It's a mountain beaver, we found out later. It's only about ten inches long, low to the ground, but it's running at us as fast as something ten inches long can run. You imagine maybe-- locomotive noises. As it approached, each of us, in turn, leaped out of the way, hugging the mountain, trying to get our boots off the trail. The mountain beaver chugs right past, on down the path, never falters, never slows, never looks askance. I picture this, my family, from a long distance off, and we are ridiculous. But what are you going to do? That fucker charged.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:55 AM on June 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


'Autocoprophagy is pretty common in non-ruminant herbivores like rodents.'

And maybe among some members of the Vienna Actionists.
posted by Stan Carey at 6:55 AM on June 14, 2010


Thanks, shakespeherian. A very funny story, well told.
posted by Stan Carey at 8:05 AM on June 14, 2010


Jeez, fed on by the world's largest flea. And I thought the "no brown M&M" contract clause was strange.
posted by Auden at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


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