This story does not take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, it happens right here on Earth! Imagine that one night, a spaceship comes hurtling through the atmosphere and comes crashing to the ground. A crowd gathers around the smoking wreckage. Much to their surprise, a hatch opens and out steps a familiar-looking creature. Is that…Chewbacca?
The Force Awakens
Chewie is quite a specimen! He is bipedal, standing on two legs, and covered in what looks like fur. He stands taller than anyone in the gathering crowd and tries to communicate using a strange howling growl of a call. After the initial shock wears off, everyone agrees on the need for a scientist to observe the strange visitor. The expert called in happens to be Dr. John Wible, Curator of Mammals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. His extensive knowledge of our planet’s mammal species helps guide the process of classifying this new creature.
A New Hope
A common goal of keeping Chewie healthy means that getting samples must be non-invasive and safe. That makes DNA the way to go! This genetic material can be obtained from even small samples of hair, fingernails, saliva, blood, or even poop. Since Chewie is covered in hair, Dr. Wible compares the DNA in a shed strand to that of other mammals. He first looks for similar genetic patterns between our new friend and groups of mammals that have already been studied. From there, he builds a case as to what animal(s) Chewbacca is most closely related. While waiting for the DNA samples to come back from the lab, Dr. Wible makes comparisons with the fossil record and comes to the conclusion that Chewbacca is most like Gigantopithecus. This species of humongous apes stood about 10 feet tall and roamed regions of Asia more than 100,000 years ago.
Solo: A Chewbacca Story?
What if Chewbacca is unlike anything we know here on Earth? That’s almost certainly the case, and there is plenty for us to wonder about. We do not know if this creature was born live or hatched from an egg. We also don’t know if it consumed milk as an infant, like most mammals. What if Chewie’s hair is different than any known earth mammal? What if there is no DNA at all? If Chewbacca has an unknown or new type of genetic material, it would fall under a whole new kingdom to go along with animals, plants, fungi, protists, archebacteria, and eubacteria!
Chewbacca’s iconic howl is an otherworldly mash-up of animals found on earth! The sound made for the movies is a combination of bears, a badger, a lion, a seal and a walrus.
Learn more in Nature Lab!
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