An incredibly large, elusive species of rat that had so far kept itself hidden in the wilds of the Solomon Islands has finally revealed itself to the world of science. Researchers tracked down this 18-inch-long, mysterious rodent species after several years of search in the dense rainforests of the Solomon Islands.
The territory of the Solomon Islands comprises of six main islands and over 900 smaller islands spread between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Majority of these islands are covered with dense rainforests, offering perfect conditions for the animal life to evolve in distinctive ways. About half of the mammal species dwelling on these islands are not found in any other part of the world.
The Guardian reports that the newly identified species of giant rat was discovered by Tyrone Lavery, a researcher at The Field Museum in Chicago. Lavery first heard rumors about this tree-dwelling, possum-like rat in 2010 during his first research trip to the Vanuatu Island. He was told that this giant rat, locally called vika, lived on trees. It was about four times the size of normal rats, and could easily open coconuts with its sharp teeth. Lavery spent next few years on Vanuatu Island in search of this mysterious rat, but all his efforts, such as spotlight searches, camera traps, etc., failed to provide any clue about the rat.
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Luckily, a vika rat was finally spotted in 2016 when commercial loggers were cutting a tree in Zaira village. The rat was probably hiding within the tree and sustained serious injuries when the tree fell down on earth. It died shortly afterwards due to injuries, but was identified as vika by the inhabitants of the Zaira village. DNA sampling and skull examination also confirmed that it was a new rat species. Lavery named the species as “Uromys vika” in honor of its local, traditional name.
“The new species, Uromys vika, is pretty spectacular—it’s a big, giant rat,” said Lavery as quoted by Eurekalert.
“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.”
The vika rat is a skilled climber and prefers spending most of its time on trees. Although Lavery has not yet found any evidence of vika eating coconuts, there is evidence suggesting that the animal eats ngali nuts—a local nut that is as hard as coconuts.
Lavery also reveals that vika is a rare animal and could soon be listed as a critically endangered species.
The detailed findings of this research have been published in the Journal of Mammalogy.