Saturday September 30, 2017

New giant rat species could crack coconuts with its jaws

Illustration of the newly discovered giant rat from the Solomon island of Vangunu

Illustration of the newly discovered giant rat from the Solomon island of Vangunu (Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum)

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Rumours of a rodent of unusual size

Dr. Tyrone Lavery, a mammologist and post-doctoral fellow at the Field Museum in Chicago, spent six years hunting through the jungles of the island of Vangunu in the Solomon Islands archipelago for a giant rat that local people had described to him. They told of a timid creature that lived high in the treetops, but with the strength to crack open coconuts with its teeth.  But despite years of looking, laying traps and automatic cameras, he never even caught a glimpse of the animal.  

Finally, a discovery

One of Dr. Lavery's local colleagues eventually caught wind that loggers were seeing these giant rodents fleeing trees they were cutting down. He went to the site, and was able to capture an animal that had been injured when its tree had been felled. The animal unfortunately died, but was able to save the bones for Dr. Lavery, who now at least had real evidence of the animal's existence.

U vika alive

The injured giant rat before it died (Oke Revoh)

A giant rat of distinction

Dr. Lavery soon confirmed that this was a new species - distinct from the giant rats on other Solomon islands.  It's about four times the size of a normal rat, with wide feet adapted to treetop living, and powerful jaws for cracking open hard-shelled nuts. He hopes to visit Vangunu again next year to continue his quest to see a live specimen.

nuts chewed by the giant rat

Thick-shelled nuts chewed by the giant rat (T Lavery)