Largest rats ever discovered in East Timor

Jaw bone of giant rat species discovered on East Timor, being compared with the same bone of a modern rat. (Photo : Stuart Hay, ANU)

From Science World Report:

Giant Rat Fossils Discovered, Largest To Have Existed

Rosanna Singh

Nov 06, 2015 01:23 PM EST

Archaeologists have discovered fossil remains of the world’s largest rat species in East Timor. The seven giant rat fossils were ten times the size of modern rats, according to the team of researchers from the Australian National University (ANU).

“They are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog,” said Dr Julien Louys, lead author of the study, in a news release. “Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo.”

The researchers claimed that this species is considered to be the largest known rats to have ever lived. The researchers’ main objective in the study was to figure out what caused the rat species’ extinction. The study is a part of the Sunda to Sahul project, which is examining the earliest human movement through Southeast Asia.

ANU researchers found that the earliest evidence of humans in East Timor dates back to 46,000 years ago, leading them to believe that humans from that period lived with the rats.

“We know they’re eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks. The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago,” said Louys. “The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale.”

The researchers are hoping that they can find out when humans started inhibiting islands of Southeast Asia and how their activities impacted the ecosystem. The researchers believe that this information in turn can be used to create conservation practices.

“We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” said Louys. “Once we know what was there before humans got there, we see what type of impact they had.”

The findings of this study will be presented at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Texas.