The Goya Ate My Degu

I am certain that you will be able to imagine my complete lack of surprise upon reading in my morning newspaper that a giant rodent was recently discovered to have become extinct a long time ago when becoming extinct was the fashionable thing to do.

I am talking about a news item that opened with the alarming phrase: “A rodent the size of a buffalo?” Well, who would not be alarmed at such an opening? Given my recent battles with field mice the size of Doberman pincers devouring my camper trailer, and snakes the size of suspension bridge cables trying to devour yours truly, I was not in the least taken aback to read about giant 700 kilogram (or 40 thousand pounds in the old measurement system) rodents that used to barge about South American swamps millions of years ago. Now we know where the Japanese got their concept for Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.

“Imagine a weird guinea pig, but huge, with a long tail for balancing on its hind legs and continuously growing teeth,” is how the beast, technically known as Phoberomys Pattersoni, but more affectionately known as Goya, was described.

A 700-kilogram guinea pig named Goya. Words fail me. My three boys each had a guinea pig. We used to feed them these little cylindrical army olive green pellets that they immediately pooped out in the form of little cylindrical army olive green pellets. What I want to know is just who fed these giant 700-kilogram guinea pigs and what exactly did they feed them.

The news story reports that the researchers who discovered the animal’s remains claim that they – the Goya, not the researchers – ate large amounts of grass to support their great size. Although now I am wondering just what the researchers do eat to support their great size.

Anyway, being a Goya was no walk in the park. While foraging for immense quantities of grass to eat in their swampy forest, they had to keep a lookout for ferocious predators like giant crocodiles, giant carnivorous cats called marsupial cats, and giant flesh-eating birds called phorracoids. But I think the researchers are making all of this up. I mean, what cat or bird in his, or her, right mind would go after a buffalo-sized guinea pig? A giant crocodile, maybe.

But that’s nothing compared to being a rodent in the Burn household. As I mentioned earlier, each of our three boys had a guinea pig. Unfortunately, they only lasted a few months and they all passed away within two weeks of each other, from some disease I suspect.

So we were living once again in a rodent free household until my youngest son received a hamster from my once favourite sister, Marjorie (she likes it when I mention her name in these columns). The hamster was doing fine when my middle son brought home one of the science class’ degus for the summer.

When he first told me he was taking care of the class degus during the school year, my first thought was, “What?” So I looked up “degu” in our encyclopaedia to learn that a degu is nothing more than a small modern day version of the giant prehistoric Goya.

So we had the hamster and the degu living side-by-side in separate cages and everything was going along swimmingly until the hamster died. Then, the degu, perhaps out of loneliness, died just two weeks before she was due back at the school science class.

If my wife and I have learned anything from all of these deaths, it is that the threshold of our door is akin to a death sentence for any small furry rodent-like creature.

The Goya story closes saying that it remains a mystery as to why the giant animal went extinct. My guess is that my ancient ancestors invited the Goya population into their caves with the intent of domesticating them, or riding them into the sunset, and they all immediately died at the cave threshold.

To close, I would like to dedicate this column to Squirmy, Hidey, Patches, Fuzzy and Parsley. They all had strange names.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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