Scientists discover huge red rats that live in trees and crack open coconuts
This is an illustration of the new species, Uromys vika. (Source: Facebook/Velizar Simeonovski/Field Museum)
(RNN) - If you are put off by 18-inch-long, two-plus-pound, red tree-rats that can chew holes in coconuts, avoid the Solomon Islands.
That's where a team of scientists discovered a whole, new species, Uromys vika, that spend their lives in 30-foot-tall trees and are rumored to be able to crack open coconuts with their teeth.
Tyrone Lavery, a mammalogist, had heard about the legendary tree-dwelling rodents since his first visit to the Solomons in 2011. The island group group is in the the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles from Australia and not much closer to anywhere else.
The islands are so biologically isolated that more than half the animals found there are found nowhere else on earth, according to Science Daily.
Lavery was a young PhD. student when he began his quest to find the mythic beasts. It turned out harder than you might think to find a rat that's four times bigger than the big, nasty black rats that gave everybody bubonic plague in the 1300s and managed to infest the world stowing away on European sailing ships.
It would take four typical American sewer rats to make one Solomon tree rat, so think about that for a minute.
Lavery searched high and low for years, but the rats were so elusive he began to think they existed only in the imagination of the islanders. It's particularly hard, he said, to search for an animal that lives in the top of a big, tall trees. Things on the ground are easier to spot he noted, reasonably.
Well, one day, lo and behold, one of the darn things came rumbling out of a fallen-down tree and Lavery nabbed it. He knew right away it wasn't like the other eight species of rats that live on the island. They did tests with DNA and matched it with other rats the world around, and before you now it, there was the proof that this was a whole, new species heretofore never identified by science.
While the rat has only just been discovered, it will soon be classified as critically endangered because it lives in a rain forest, and logging is just getting underway in the habitat.
Lavery said the rats need to be preserved - not only because they are the only ones of their kind in the universe. They are a big part of the local culture. The people write songs about them, and children recite rhymes like "this little piggy went to market."
The discovery is so important because the animal is so rare and close to extinction.
Finding new mammals is extremely rare. There are only a few dozen new species of mammals discovered every year, Lavery said. "Vika was so hard to find, and the fact that I was able to persevere is something I am proud of," he said.
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