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BBC News - Gerbils replace rats as main cause of Black Death
Black rats may not have been to blame for numerous outbreaks of the bubonic plague across Europe, a study suggests.
Scientists believe repeat epidemics of the Black Death, which arrived in Europe in the mid-14th Century, instead trace back to gerbils from Asia.
Prof Nils Christian Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, said: "If we're right, we'll have to rewrite that part of history."
I know that here in the Western US, Bubonic Plague shows up in colonies of Prairie Dogs, now and again. And on the rare occasion, a human or two pick it up.
But I never heard that there were a lot of gerbils running about Europe back in those days.
― Greg Bear, Darwin's Children
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The first known mention of gerbils came in 1866, by Father Armand David, who sent "yellow rats" to the Museum of Natural History (MusÃ©e d'Histoire Naturelle) in Paris, from northern China. They were named Meriones unguiculatus by the scientist Milne-Edwards in 1867. This scientific name in a combination of Greek and modified Latin loosely translates as "clawed warrior" in English, partly stemming from the Greek warrior Meriones in Homer's Iliad, combined with 'unguiculate' meaning to have claws or nails.
(Mongolian gerbil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
First known mention of Gerbils in 1866? I thought the Black Death was centuries before.