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Science | New Species

Real-life 'Rodent Of Unusual Size' discovered. Here's where

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Thursday, September 28, 2017, 19:28 - It looks like "The Princess Bride" was onto something.

The newly described Uromys vika has a good claim to being a real-life "Rodent Of Unusual Size." From snout to tailtip, the can grow as long as 45 cm, and weighs up to 2.2 pounds -- four times the size of its lesser urban cousins that you might find lurking in your basement. 

Fortunately for you and any travelling companions you might be bickering with while you're wandering the woods, you're not likely to be ambushed by any vika rats any time soon: The only known specimens to be found are on Vangunu Island, part of the Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands, and it took years of searching to find them.

"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," Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery, a post-doctoral researcher at Chicago's Field Museum who led the search effort, said in a news release Wednesday.

Lavery first heard about the vika rat on a 2010 trip to the Solomons, but years of looking for evidence proved fruitless, given the species' tree-dwelling nature. 

"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," he said. "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."

U. vika illustration. Credit: Velizar Simeonovski/The Field Museum

A lucky break finally brought the specimen he was looking for: One vika rat fell out of a tree that had just been cut down, and upon examination, Lavery was able to determine it was a new species.

Lavery says collaboration with local people was key to finally pinning the species down (the paper's coauthor, Hikuna Judge, is a wildlife ranger in the nature preserve where the animal was found). Aside from its role in nature, the little-seen rodent also has a cultural importance, even featuring in local nursery rhymes.

But like other species in the Solomons, more than half of whose mammals are found only in the archipelago, its habitat is under severe threat from deforestation, and Lavery says it's likely the vika will be designated critically endangered.

"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."

The Zaira preserve is already home to three critically endangered species, and Lavery has launched a crowdfunding effort to shore up conservation efforts there.

Lavery's research has been published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

SOURCES: Chicago Field Museum | Journal of Mammalogy |

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