A mysterious piece of fur found frozen in Northern Canada has been identified as a 30,000-year-old mummified squirrel.
Experts think the Ice Age creature may have been hibernating at the time of its death, as it was discovered curled up in a ball.
It was found in 2018 by miners in the Yukon area, near a former gold rush outpost close to the Alaskan border.
“It’s not quite recognizable until you see these little hands and claws, and you see a little tail, and then you see ears,” Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for the Yukon government, told me. CBC news.
“I study bones all the time and they are exciting, they are very neat.
Fossilized: A mysterious piece of fur found frozen in Northern Canada has been identified as a 30,000-year-old mummified squirrel
Analysis: Investigators enlisted the help of a vet’s office with an x-ray machine to determine exactly what the fur ball was. The images revealed a remarkably intact skeleton
“But when you see an animal that’s perfectly preserved, that’s 30,000 years old, and you can see its face and its skin and its hair and stuff, it’s just so visceral.
WHAT IS THE ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL?
The only mammal that can survive freezing is the Arctic ground squirrel.
During an eight-month hibernation, the core temperature drops to -2.9°C.
The animal survives by “supercooling” itself, so that the water in its body cannot form crystals around a core and freeze solid.
The oldest Arctic ground squirrel remains discovered in Alaska date from 1.8 to 2.5 million years ago.
Arctic ground squirrels still live in Yukon and Alaska, grow up to 49 cm in length and weigh up to 1500 grams.
They feed on plants, insects, small vertebrates, eggs and birds.
Their lifespan is between 8 and 10 years.
“It brings it to life like that.”
The specimen will now be on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse, Canada.
Researchers have named the mummified Arctic ground squirrel ‘Hester’ because it was found near Canada’s Hester Creek in the Klondike goldfields, close to Dawson City.
Several well-preserved animal species from tens of thousands of years ago have been unearthed in this area, including giant beavers, a baby mammoth, and a wolf pup.
“It’s amazing to think that this little guy was running around the Yukon several thousand years ago,” the Yukon government wrote in a Facebook post about the squirrel last month.
The Klondike Fields are known to be full of Ice Age fossils – last year a miner even found a perfectly preserved 30,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth.
The Yukon government said it was “the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America,” and only the second find in the world.
The calf, named ‘Nun cho ga’, meaning ‘big baby animal’ in the Hän language, was frozen in permafrost, mummifying its remains.
Images show the skin still intact with bits of hair sticking to the body.
Further analysis revealed that the calf is a female and lived alongside wild horses, cave lions and giant steppe bison that once roamed the Yukon thousands of years ago.
Unlike woolly mammoths, Arctic ground squirrels still inhabit Yukon and Alaska today.
Researchers have named the mummified Arctic ground squirrel “Hester” because it was found near Canada’s Hester Creek in the Klondike goldfields, close to Dawson City (stock image)
It was feared that the squirrel’s bones might have deteriorated as calcium leached out over time, so the fact that the skeleton was in ‘good shape’ was a welcome surprise to experts
Fascinating: Researchers said much could be learned from the discovery of the fossilized animal
The animals survived the ice age, which is why scientists find them so intriguing as they want to investigate whether they can also withstand future changes in climate.
Zazula said much could be learned from the discovery of the mummified squirrel.
“The animals we have here today are actually quite tough, having had to endure these myriad changes in the past,” he said.
“So that’s a really important lesson in terms of trying to think about how future climate change will affect these animals.”
Experts couldn’t try to unravel the petrified squirrel’s remains because they were so fragile.
Beware: Experts couldn’t try to unravel the fossilized squirrel remains because they were so fragile. Instead, it had to be subtly X-rayed
Theory: Researchers believe the squirrel was young and most likely hibernating when it died
Hot spot: The Klondike Fields are known to be full of Ice Age fossils — in fact, a miner found a perfectly preserved 30,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth last year (pictured)
That’s why they enlisted the help of a vet’s office with an x-ray machine.
This produced fascinating images that revealed a remarkably intact skeleton, though the analysis failed to shed any light on how the squirrel died.
Nevertheless, it was feared that the squirrel’s bones might have deteriorated as calcium leached from them over time, so the fact that the skeleton was in “good condition” was a welcome surprise to researchers.
They think Hester was young and most likely hibernating when he died.
Living Arctic ground squirrels similarly curl up into balls to overwinter in underground burrows, which they then line with leafy nests.
WHAT IS PERMAFROST AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT MELTS?
Permafrost is a permanently frozen layer below the Earth’s surface that occurs in arctic regions such as Alaska, Siberia and Canada.
It usually consists of soil, gravel and sand bound together by ice and is classified as soil that has remained below 0 °C (32 °F) for at least two years.
It is estimated that 1,500 billion tons of carbon is stored in the world’s permafrost – more than twice as much as in the atmosphere.
The carbon comes in the form of ancient vegetation and soil that has remained frozen for millennia.
If global warming melted the world’s permafrost, thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and methane could be released into the atmosphere.
Because some permafrost areas have remained frozen for thousands of years, this is of particular interest to scientists.
Ancient remains found in permafrost are among the most complete ever found, as the ice prevents organic matter from decomposing.
A number of 2,500-year-old bodies buried in Siberia by a group of nomads known as the Scythians have been found with their tattooed skin still intact.
A baby mammoth corpse discovered on Russia’s Arctic coast in 2010 still had clumps of hair despite being more than 39,000 years old.
Permafrost is also used in the study of the geological history of the Earth, as soil and minerals buried for thousands of years deep in Arctic regions can be excavated and studied today.