National Geographic (after Nature) introduces us to a brand new mammal species – or new to us, anyway – that tumbled out of a tree in the Solomon Islands. This is the once-mythical, coconut-eating, Vangunu giant rat:
“I immediately knew it was something new,” says mammalogist Tyrone Lavery, a fellow at the Queensland Museum and Chicago’s Field Museum who’s been searching for the rat since 2010.
Weighing more than two pounds and growing up to 1.5 feet long, the Vangunu giant rat (Uromys vika) is about four times larger than city rats scurrying through alleys and dumpsters the world over.
For instance, the rodent’s long, hairless, and scaly tail likely provides traction while navigating the treetops. Wide back feet with large pads and curved claws are also probably adaptations for life in the trees, says Lavery, who, with [ranger Hikuna] Judge, co-authored a paper describing the new species in the latest Journal of Mammalogy.
Like most rodents, the Vangunu giant rat has large, sharp incisors, which it apparently uses to gnaw into Canarium nuts. The rats are also fond of coconuts, according to local people in Vangunu.
That’s why Lavery and Judge are lucky they found the Vangunu rat—its rapidly disappearing forest habitat may mean the animal is critically endangered.
Timber companies have logged 90 percent of the Solomon Island’s trees, and on Vangunu, the rats are squeezed into remaining patches totaling just 31 square miles.