Giant Rat Species Discovered In Solomon Islands

Posted: Sep 30 2017, 6:32am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 30 2017, 6:34am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Giant Rat Species Discovered in Solomon Islands
Illustration of the new species, Uromys vika. Credit: Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

The rat is so big it can crack coconuts with teeth

A new species of rat, four times larger than the common rodent, has been discovered in Solomon Islands. The new rat lives on trees and is so huge that it can crack coconuts with its teeth.

Researches first heard stories about this giant, coconut-cracking rat in 2010, but its existence remained a mystery until now. After years of searching for the elusive animal, they have finally been able to confirm its existence, which also makes it the first rodent species found in the islands in more than 80 years.

“When I first met with the people from Vangunu Island in the Solomons, they told me about a rat native to the island that they called vika, which lived in the trees," said mammalogist Tyrone Lavery from The Field Museum in Chicago and lead author of the study. “I was excited because I had just started my Ph.D., and I'd read a lot of books about people who go on adventures and discover new species.”

“The new species, Uromys vika, is pretty spectacular – it's a big, giant rat. It is the first rat discovered in 80 years from Solomons, and it’s not like people have not been trying – it was just so hard to find.”

Vika is about a foot and a half long and weighs more than 2 pounds. Lavery and his team caught the first glimpse of the new rat species in the forest when a specimen was running out of a fallen tree. The rat was captured and photographed but later died of injuries. When researchers compared its DNA against the DNA of its relatives in museum collections, they confirmed that the giant rat was indeed a new species. While they have not yet been observed cracking open coconuts, their diet likely includes fruits and hardshelled nuts.

“As soon as I examined the specimen, I knew it was something different,” said Lavery. “There are only eight known species of native rat from the Solomon Islands and looking at the features on its skull, I could rule out a bunch of species right away.”

The Solomon Islands, located a thousand miles northwest of Australia, are biologically isolated. Many of the animals on the islands are confined to the region and are not found anywhere else in the world and new rat is no exception to that.

Unfortunately, the new found species is already endangered due to commercial logging and researchers estimate that there may be no more than hundred Vika rats left in the region.

“It’s getting to the stage for this rat that, if we hadn’t discovered it now, it might never have gotten discovered. The area where it was found is one of the only places left with forest that has not been logged,” said Lavery.

“It’s really urgent for us to be able to document this rat and find additional support for the Zaira Conservation Area on Vangunu where the rat lives.

“Finding a new mammal is really rare – there are probably just a few dozen new mammals discovered every year. The discovery marks an important moment in the biological study of the Solomon Islands, especially since vika is so uncommon and close to extinction.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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