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947498.  Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:07 pm Reply with quote

Aww, ain't she cute

I had never heard of hyraxes until I was doing some reading about Mount Kenya for this post. A few days later, I came across them in a copy of Science magazine (more on that below). As it turns out, they're actually quite interesting (they also make for excellent scores in Scrabble). So, here are three QI facts about hyraxes;

    1) Hyraxes are small little critters (30 to 70 cm long), but they're evolutionary cousins of elephants. Both elephants and hyraxes are descendants of the giant hyracoids of days past. DNA evidence suggests that some giant hyracoids became smaller, while others eventually evolved into elephants and manatees. Both hyraxes and elephants have sensitive hearing, excellent memories and tusks. [wiki]

    2) Hyraxes probably aren't confused with elephants much, but they have been confused with rabbits. Hyraxes mostly live in African and the Middle East, meaning that early Europeans had little to no exposure to them. Because of this, when the bible was translated into English, any reference of hyraxes where changed to rabbits or hares. It goes the other way too. Phoenician sailors off the coast of Spain saw rabbits but thought they were hyraxes. [wiki]

    3) Science Magazine recently reported on some new research out of Israel that suggest that hyraxes have the rudiments of language. They communicate in song, and these songs show clear signs of both syntax and regional dialects. [source]

947500.  Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:26 pm Reply with quote

Paenungulata! Amazingly, this was identified (.. ish) as a taxon long before modern cladistics and phylogenetics. What the chap who spotted that relationship was smoking at the time is sadly, not recorded. Though if that makes them cousins, then in a very real sense, I'm a monkey's uncle...

The other Key Hyrax Fact is surely that they're halfway towards being kosher as a foodstuff. They're the Biblical example of an animal that's not cloven-hooved (the Artiodactyla, pretty much), which is bad, but does chew the cud, which is good. But also entirely incorrect, in a shock blow to any Biblical literalists unswayed by any other minor issues. (Is it just astrologists that are explicitly banned by the host from watching QI?)


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