Giant rat discovery in Solomon Islands


This 28 September 2017 video is called Enormous, coconut-cracking, tree-dwelling rat found in Solomon Islands.

Another video used to say about itself:

27 September 2017

People from Vangunu in the Solomon Islands have for decades told stories about “vika,” a giant tree-dwelling rat with teeth sharp enough to bite through a coconut.

Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery of the Field Museum in Chicago heard these seemingly outrageous stories when he first visited the islands in 2010. Intrigued, he brought a team to investigate a forested area, but the scientists came out rat-less.

A logging company later entered the same region and focused their chopping work on a big tree.

“They cut down the tree, and the rat came out of it,” Lavery recounted to Seeker. The terrified gigantic rat, which went scurrying past the equally stunned loggers, was indeed the legendary vika.

Described in the Journal of Mammalogy, the rodent was given the scientific name Uromys vika. It is the first new rat species to be discovered in the Solomon Islands in nearly a century.

Local animal expert Hikuna Judge, a co-author of the paper, obtained one of the rats, permitting detailed study of its anatomy. First, the researchers noted the rodent’s size and heft: a foot and a half long, and 2.2 pounds. In comparison, rats typically seen in American homes and alleys weigh less than half of a pound, on average.

Judge, Lavery, and their colleagues compared vika’s skull and other features to those of rodent species in museum collections. They also conducted a genetic analysis using a DNA sample. The research confirmed that the giant rat does in fact represent a new species.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Tree-dwelling, coconut-cracking giant rat discovered in Solomon Islands

Elusive 18-inch-long rodent finally found after years of searching

September 27, 2017

Summary: Scientists have discovered a new species of giant rat. It’s more than four times the size of the black rats that live in the US, it lives in trees, and it’s rumored to crack open coconuts with its teeth. And it’s actually pretty cute.

Remember the movie The Princess Bride, when the characters debate the existence of R.O.U.S.es (Rodents of Unusual Size), only to be beset by enormous rats? That’s kind of what happened here.

Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery heard rumors of a giant, possum-like rat that lived in trees and cracked open coconuts with its teeth on his first trip to the Solomon Islands in 2010. After years of searching and a race against deforestation destroying the rat’s would-be home, Lavery, along with John Vendi and Hikuna Judge, finally found it.

“The new species, Uromys vika, is pretty spectacular — it’s a big, giant rat,” said Lavery, a post-doctoral researcher at The Field Museum in Chicago and the lead author of the Journal of Mammalogy paper announcing the rat’s discovery. “It’s the first rat discovered in 80 years from Solomons, and it’s not like people haven’t been trying — it was just so hard to find.”

The Solomon Islands, a country made up of a series of islands a thousand miles northeast of Australia, are biologically isolated. Over half of the mammals on the Solomon Islands are found nowhere else on Earth, making it an attractive location for scientists like Lavery.

“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,” says Lavery. “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.”

But years of searching didn’t turn up any of the giant rats. “I started to question if it really was a separate species, or if people were just calling regular black rats ‘vika,'”said Lavery. Part of what made the search so difficult was the rat’s tree-dwelling lifestyle. “If you’re looking for something that lives on the ground, you’re only looking in two dimensions, left to right and forward and backward. If you’re looking for something that can live in 30-foot-tall trees, then there’s a whole new dimension that you need to search,” explains Lavery.

Finally, one of the rats was discovered scurrying out of a felled tree. “As soon as I examined the specimen, I knew it was something different,” says 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.” After comparing the specimen to similar species in museum collections and checking the new rat’s DNA against the DNA of its relatives, Lavery confirmed that the giant rat was a new species, which he named Uromys vika in honor of the local name for the rat. “This project really shows the importance of collaborations with local people,” says Lavery, who learned about the rat through talking with Vangunu locals and confirmed with them that the new rat matched the “vika” they knew.

Vika are a lot bigger than the black rats that spread throughout the world with European colonists — the rats you’ll see in American alleys weigh around 200 grams (0.44 pounds), Solomon Islands rats can be more than four times that size, weighing up to a kilogram (2.2 pounds). And from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, U. vika is about a foot and a half long. And while they haven’t yet been observed cracking open coconuts, they do have a penchant for chewing circular holes into nuts to get at the meat.

The rat’s giant size and possum-like tree-dwelling lifestyle can be traced back to its island home. Islands are full of animals found nowhere else on earth that evolved in isolation from the rest of the world. “Vika’s ancestors probably rafted to the island on vegetation, and once they got there, they evolved into this wonderfully new species, nothing like what they came from on the mainland,” explains Lavery.

While the rat has only just been discovered, it will quickly be designated as Critically Endangered, due to its rarity and the threat posed by logging to its rainforest habitat. “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 hasn’t been logged,” says 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.” Lavery also emphasized the necessity of preserving the rats, not just for ecological reasons, but for the role they play in the lives of Vangunu’s people. “These animals are important parts of culture across Solomon Islands — people have songs about them, and even children’s rhymes like our ‘This little piggy went to market.'” The discovery marks an important moment in the biological study of the Solomon Islands, especially since vika is so uncommon and close to extinction. “Finding a new mammal is really rare — there are probably just a few dozen new mammals discovered every year,” says Lavery. “Vika was so hard to find, and the fact that I was able to persevere is something that I’m proud of.”

Mammalogists went to the Solomon Islands in search of a giant rat and monkey-faced bat — and ended up playing a role in fostering peace between the Kwaio people of Malaita and the Western world. A reconciliation ceremony between the Kwaio and Australian scientists began the healing process for acts of violence committed in 1927, when the Solomon Islands were a British protectorate: here.

4 thoughts on “Giant rat discovery in Solomon Islands

  1. Pingback: Giant Rats | huggers.ca

  2. Pingback: Top 5 Animal Superpowers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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