Golden

Legendary Invertebrate or Rodent of Central Asia.

Physical description: Size of a fox. Skin like a leopard's.

Behavior: Moves swiftly. Digs holes in the winter.

Distribution: Highlands around the Indus River area in Pakistan; Jammu and Kashmir State, India.

Significant sighting: The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote of an area in northern India where large, vicious ants dug burrows that turned up a large quantity of gold-bearing sand. The Persians went to the region in the morning to bag the sand and take it back while the ants were still underground.

Present status: Not taken very seriously for nearly 2,500 years, until Michel Peissel visited the region in 1996. Possible explanations:

(1) The Long-tailed marmot (Marmota caudata) of Baltistan in northern Pakistan, Michel Peissel notes, burrows in gold-bearing soil. The ancient Persian word for these animals translates as "mountain ant," which resulted in Herodotus's misidentification.

(2) Other sources mention giant insects in northern China. Berthold Laufer has suggested a confusion of the Mongolian word for ant, shorgoolj, with the Shirongol Mongols, now more commonly known as the Dongxiang, who currently live in Gansu Province, China, east of Linxia.

Sources: Herodotus, The Histories, ed. John Marincola (New York: Penguin, 1996), pp. 194-195 (iii. 102-105); The Classic of Mountains and Seas, trans. Anne Birrell (New York: Penguin, 1999), pp. 146, 200, 211 (bk. 12); Strabo, The Geography, trans. Horace Leonard Jones (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), vol. 7, pp. 75-77 (xv 1.44); David Hawkes, ed., Ch'u tz'u: The Songs ofthe South (Oxford: Clarendon, 1959), p. 104; Berthold Laufer, "Die Sage von dem goldgrabenden Ameisen," TungPao, ser. 2, vol. 11 (1908); Peter Costello, The Magic Zoo (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), pp. 90-93; Peter

Humi, "Solving the Mystery of the 'Golden Ants,'" CNN News report, December 2, 1996.

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