Gi­ant 1.5-foot-long ro­dent dis­cov­ered

Tempo - - News -

WASH­ING­TON (Reuters) – Peo­ple liv­ing on the Solomon Is­lands in the Pa­cific Ocean long had spo­ken of a big, tree-dwelling rat called vika that in­hab­ited the rain­for­est, but the re­mark­able ro­dent man­aged to elude sci­en­tists – un­til now.

Af­ter search­ing for it for years with cam­eras mounted in trees and traps, sci­en­tists said they fi­nally caught up with the rat on Van­gunu Is­land, part of the Solomon Is­lands, spot­ting one as it emerged from a tree felled by log­gers.

It in­stantly joined the list of the big­gest rats in the world, weigh­ing about four times more than an or­di­nary rat and mea­sur­ing about 1-1/2 feet (about half a meter) long.

“Vika lives in a very thick, com­plex for­est, and it is up in the canopy so it is dif­fi­cult to find. It is also a rare species. It is likely there are not many of these rats left,” mam­mal­o­gist Ty­rone Lav­ery of the Field Mu­seum in Chicago, who led the re­search, said on Thurs­day. The or­ange­brown rat dines on nuts and fruit, has short ears, a smooth tail with very fine scales and wide feet that al­low it to move through the for­est canopy.

The rat is re­puted to chew holes in co­conuts to eat the in­side. “I haven’t found proof of this yet, but I have found that they can eat a very thick-shelled nut called a ngali nut,” Lav­ery said.

A small num­ber of rat species around the world ri­val vika’s size. Lav­ery said a vika rel­a­tive also in­hab­it­ing the Solomon Is­lands, called Pon­celet’s gi­ant rat, is twice the size.

The world’s largest ro­dent is not a rat, but rather South Amer­ica’s bar­rel-shaped capy­bara.

Lav­ery said vika should be con­sid­ered crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, with log­ging threat­en­ing its habi­tat.


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