Canadian paleontologists have revealed the discovery of a mummified Arctic ground squirrel dating back to the Ice Age, according to CBC.
A placer miner in the Yukon found the squirrel in 2018, Canadian news outlet CBC reported Wednesday. The discovery was only recently made public because the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse is set to display the mummified squirrel later in the spring. It will be displayed with a mummified black-footed ferret found decades back.
“I’m really impressed that someone recognized it for what it was. From the outside, it just kind of looks like a brown blob. It looks a bit like a brown rock,” Whitehorse veterinarian Dr. Jess Heath told CBC.
Miners often find Ice Age bones and fossils preserved in the Canadian territory’s permafrost, the outlet reported.
“I study bones all the time and they’re exciting, they’re really neat. 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 all that, it’s just so visceral. It brings it so to life,” Yukon government paleontologist Grant Zazula told CBC.
We’re excited to share a few pictures of a ~30,000 year old arctic ground squirrel. We were able to get some incredible x-rays of the squirrel’s remains. You’ll be able to see this incredible specimen on display at the Beringia Centre very soon! #MuseumMonday #IceAge #fossil pic.twitter.com/txXlW0Qu5Y
— Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre (@yukonberingia) March 28, 2023
Finding a full, mummified squirrel preserved over so many millennia is unusual, according to Zazula. Squirrels are especially unique to study because they persisted in the Yukon after the Ice Age, CBC reported. (RELATED:Tiny Animal Is Thought To Have Survived The Last Ice Ages)
“Some people get really, really excited when they find that giant woolly mammoth leg or, you know, the big tusks or the big skulls. But for me, the Arctic ground squirrel fossils, the nests, and now this mummified squirrel, are really the coolest things that we do have. They’re my favorites, for sure,” Zazula told the outlet.
A 57,000-year-old mummified grey wolf pup with its internal organs intact was found in the Yukon in 2016, CBC reported in 2020. A gold miner discovered a baby woolly mammoth in the territory in 2022, according to the outlet. It was the first one found in North America, and the second in the entire world, CBC reported, citing Zazula.
Nearly all of North America was covered in glaciers during the last Ice Age, except in the Yukon because the territory was too dry, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The Yukon was home to many animals, and when they died, they became part of the frozen ground. The bones, bodies and DNA are well preserved in permafrost, which helps scientists make discoveries today. The Yukon is referred to as the “gold rush” for paleontologists, according to the magazine.