At 19-inches-long, the new giant rat species recently discovered on the Solomon Islands is an impressive physical specimen when compared to its fellow rodents. It also happens to be the first new rat species discovered in the area in about eight decades.
As noted by BBC News, the Solomons are located in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) off the Australian coast. Due to the fact that the islands are biologically isolated, the Solomons are also home to several mammals that cannot be found in other parts of the world, including the recently-discovered rat species. But the new giant rat is also interesting because it’s a key part of Solomon Islands folklore, apart from being about four times larger than the average rodent.
Speaking to BBC News, Tyrone Lavery, a fellow at Chicago’s Field Museum and Australia’s Queensland Museum, related how he had discovered the Vangunu giant rat, which is also known by the scientific name Uromys vika. He had been searching for the animal since 2010, but had failed to spot any evidence of the giant rat in repeated trips to the Solomons.
“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,” Lavery recalled.
Due to the presence of unusually large droppings in the areas he was exploring, Lavery suspected at one point that he might have found a new species, though he also thought that “vika” was simply the term locals used to describe regular black rats. But things began to fall into place in November, 2015, when a conservation ranger saw a large rat falling to its death from a tree chopped down by loggers. The ranger then shipped the rat to the Queensland Museum, where Lavery eventually confirmed he had found a new species of giant rat.
“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,” said Lavery, who confirmed the new species through DNA testing.
According to a separate report from National Geographic, the Vangunu giant rat has several features that help it survive in its island habitat. Its long tail is believed to provide good grip for climbing trees, due to its being hairless and scaly. Its back feet come with large pads and curved claws, and while it’s unsure what these physical features do, Lavery believes they represent “adaptations for life in trees.” And since the giant rats love eating coconuts and Canarium nuts, they sport particularly sharp and long incisors to gnaw into their food.
Unfortunately, there are some serious concerns surrounding the Vangunu giant rat. About 90 percent of the Solomon Islands’ trees have been cut down by loggers, and that could mean a good chance that the new rodent species will be declared critically endangered. According to Lavery, it was a good thing that the lone example of the giant rat was found in one of the few parts of the islands that hadn’t been logged yet.
“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,” Lavery concluded.
[Featured Image by Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock]