A new species of rodent has been discovered — a rat more than four times standard size and weighing more than 2 lbs. This new mammal was found running from a felled tree in a Solomon Islands forest.
Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery and his colleagues from The Field Museum discovered this new rat after years of searching — they had long heard tales of oversized rats that could bite through coconut hulls. Following the discovery, the team brought one of the giant rats — given the scientific name Uromys vika — back to the Chicago, Illinois museum.
According to Lavery, a post-doctoral researcher and lead author of a recent Journal of Mammalogy paper announcing the rat’s discovery:
“The new species, Uromys vika, is pretty spectacular — it’s a big, giant rat,” said Lavery, . “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.”
Once Lavery confirmed that the giant rat was a new species, he named it Uromys vika — honoring the name locals used when describing the rat. The long search had ended; however, preservation is only beginning.
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 Solomon Islands are actually a country made up of a half dozen major islands and hundreds of smaller islands. It is located east of Papua New Guinea, northwest of Australia. According to The Field Museum article, “over half of the mammals on the Solomon Islands are found nowhere else on Earth, making it an attractive location for scientists like Lavery.”
See more about the giant rat and its discovery in this article published by The Field Museum here, which provides details on Lavery’s journey. The article begins with a cultural reference — albeit exaggerated:
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.
While this giant rat is not quite as big as those seen in the movie, the Uromys vika is certainly an R.O.U.S.
Source: Part of the above article’s content, including quotes, were written by Kate Golembiewski of The Field Museum, and are used here with permission.