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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creature Feature: Quagga.

Last night, we discussed the ever-intrusive zebra mussel. It is slowly being replaced by something called a quagga mussel. Well, OK. We know what a zebra is. What's a quagga, again?

 

Extinct mammals are the "uncanny valley" of dead beasts. The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) looked like something between a zebra and a horse while being its own creature at a glance. The term has been used to describe a 'not quite zebra' look with faded stripes, as on the quagga mussel. Quaggas used to live in the drier parts of southern Africa. The last specimen died in Amsterdam in 1883.

Quaggas get their name, supposedly, from their call. They were first discovered in 1778 in Africa. Many other zebras soon followed. The quagga was studied extensively over the next 50 years, but as one can probably tell from the dates, it barely lasted a century from a Western perspective. This means the native peoples of Africa had already done a fine job denting the population before we came along.



The quagga is like the aurochs in many ways: both are related to domestic animals, and both went extinct in the modern era. Science has tried to resurrect both species via gene sequencing and back-breeding. The real subtle difference between the two was the difficulty There was so much confusion over exactly what the quagga was that it was hunted to extinction for its meat, hides, and to feed other domesticated animals. Nice work, science.

Quaggas, however, lack the mystique of the aurochs. The quagga has been confirmed as the first described species of plains zebra (Equus burchelli). By the laws of scientific nomenclature, which are starting to look like a YGO ruling webpage, the plains zebra should be called a quagga. HOWEVER, the name has stuck so well that zebra shall stay, giving kids an animal by which to remember the letter 'z' for years to come. 

Q is for quagga. Almost!





The good news is that the quagga got around. Zebras and horses interbreed already; the result is called a zorse. There are tons of reports of horse-quagga hybrids, really just glorified zorses with a slightly different subspecies, but who knows? Maybe that horse on Michigan Avenue contains the last blood of an extinct race in his veins.

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