A gold prospector has found a mysterious ball of fur the size of a grapefruit. It turned out to be a “perfectly preserved” 30,000-year-old squirrel.

a stiff ball of brown fur with a clawed paw sits in a pair of human hands wearing white surgical gloves

This ball of brown fur and knobby paws and claws turned out to be a mummified arctic ground squirrel.Government of Yukon

  • A prospector from Yukon discovered a mangled ball of fur the size of a large grapefruit.

  • X-rays show the furball is a curled up Ice Age squirrel in “excellent condition,” the scientists told the CBC.

  • The squirrel is estimated to be 30,000 years old and likely died during hibernation.

At first the brown, mutilated ball of fur and claws is unidentifiable.

But X-ray scans have revealed that this grapefruit-sized lump is actually a 30,000-year-old mummified ground squirrel from the Ice Age.

x-ray of a balled up squirrel skeleton showing a long, rounded spine

X-ray scans revealed a well-preserved squirrel skeleton.Government of Yukon

A gold prospector found the mysterious ball of fur in 2018 in the Klondike gold fields near Dawson City, Yukon, according to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center.

“It’s not quite recognizable until you see these little hands and these claws, and you see a little tail, and then you see the ears,” Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist, told the CBC.

woman looks at a brown hairy ball under an x-ray scanner on a white table

Veterinarian Jess Heath scanned the squirrel’s mummy.Government of Yukon

He took him to vet Jess Heath for further investigation. Heath conducted x-ray scans that revealed the frozen furball was actually a young arctic ground squirrel curled up. He probably died in hibernation, perhaps in his first year.

“We could see he was in great shape and was just curled up like he was sleeping,” Heath told CBC.

x-ray of a squirrel skeleton curled up in a near-perfect circle with legs bent and skull visible

Another angle of X-ray clearly shows the squirrel’s paws and skull curled up.Government of Yukon

“I’m really impressed that someone recognized it for what it was. From the outside, it looks just like a brown spot. It looks a bit like a brown rock,” he said.

The Yukon’s Klondike gold fields have been covered in permafrost — frozen ground — since the Ice Age. That makes the area perfect for preserving creatures that died back then: hair, nails, and all.

Gold prospectors have already come across a mummified wolf cub and a perfectly preserved mammoth cub.

permafrost mummy yukon wolf cub

A full body view of the wolf cub mummy.Government of Yukon

Discoveries like these are likely to become more common as global temperatures continue to rise due to human emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. This is causing the permafrost to thaw, revealing everything from mummified creatures to viruses and anthrax deposits.

A ground squirrel for the ages

illustration of arctic ground squirrel small rodent with furry tail huddled in an underground burrow

An illustration of the mummified ground squirrel curled up in its burrow during hibernation.Government of Yukon / Artist Julius Csotonyi

This squirrel was discovered in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people.

It’s the same species of arctic ground squirrel that still lives throughout the Yukon today. They look more like marmots than tree squirrels.

arctic ground squirrel small long marmot-like rodent on all fours on a dirt ground

An arctic ground squirrel, the same species as the mummified creature from the Ice Age.DeAgostini/Getty Images

These creatures make nests underground for their hibernation. Many of these nests have been preserved from the Ice Age and are common finds in the Yukon. A whole squirrel is rarer.

“I study bones all the time and they are exciting, they are really beautiful. But when you see a perfectly preserved animal, which is 30,000 years old, and you can see its face and its skin and its hair and everything, it is so visceral. it makes it so alive,” Zazula told CBC.

arctic ground squirrel small brown marmot-like rodent eats a dried plant stem in a cluster of pink wildflowers

Arctic ground squirrels nest in the ground, which has left their tracks throughout the permafrost.Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

“Some people get really excited when they find that giant woolly mammoth paw or, you know, the big tusks or the big skulls. But to me, the arctic ground squirrel fossils, the nests and now this mummified squirrel, it’s really the most beautiful ones that we have. They are definitely my favorites,” she added to the CBC.

The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center posted photos of the mummy and its X-ray on Facebook, announcing that the specimen would soon be on display.

“It’s amazing to think that this little guy ran around the Yukon several thousand years ago,” the post reads.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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