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Friday, March 25, 2016

Going underground

Going underground

South America is a place full of stories about mysterious beasts. Standing seven feet tall, with long red hair and big sharp claws, tales of the mapinguari, have been passed down in South American Indian folklore. An odd tapir/jaguar hybrid is also said to lurk in the deepest parts of the Amazonian rainforest. Although extremely fanciful, this hasn’t stopped explorers searching for strange creatures. Even explorers who also happened to be vice-presidents.
The principal author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had a strong interest in the sciences. He was a member of the American Philosophical Societyfor 35 years, and promoted the sciences widely. In 1796, when he was the vice president of the United States, a Colonel sent Jefferson some bones, including massive claws. He thought they belonged to an enormous lion, and, because the bones looked so fresh, thought that the lion was still out there. So he asked two explorers to keep an eye out for his giant lion.
Surprisingly, the explorers didn’t find anything. His giant lion, which he named Megalonyx, was in fact a giant ground sloth. Some years later it was named Megalonyx jeffersonii in Jefferson’s honor. However, there are some very strange things lurking in Southern Brazil and Argentina. Bizarre structures that would have made Jefferson venture into the jungles himself...



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