After Years of Searching, Scientists Finally Found This Coconut-Cracking Giant Rat

These are nuts bearing the characteristic tooth-marks of Uromys vika

These are nuts bearing the characteristic tooth-marks of Uromys vika

"When I first met with the people from Vangunu Island in the Solomons, they told me about a rat native to the island that they called vika, which lived in the trees", says Lavery.

Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery had been hearing rumors of the giant rat ever since his first trip to the Solomon Islands in 2010.

Nuts bearing the characteristic tooth-marks of Uromys vika.

The elusive vika, which is an oversize rat, lives in the tops of trees in thick vegetation on hard terrain in a remote and rainy island.

Lavery says he has not found evidence of the rat eating coconuts but he has found evidence that they have eaten ngali nuts, a local nut that he says would be as hard to crack open as coconuts.

The vika is the first rodent discovered on the Solomon Islands in 80 years, and it fits right in with the other unique mammals - such as dwarf flying fox and the Guadalcanal monkey-faced bat - that call the nation home. Lavery began to worry that the creature he saw had gone extinct, after his many attempts only turned up the common, introduced black rat, amusingly named Rattus rattus.

"I was excited because I had just started my PhD and I'd read a lot of books about people who go on adventures and discover new species", Lavery said.

Then in 2015, a ranger captured one of the rats as it scurried out of a felled tree.

The animal was compared to similar species and its DNA was cross-checked against those of its relatives, confirming it was indeed a new species. "These animals are important parts of culture across Solomon Islands-people have songs about them, and even children's rhymes like our 'This little piggy went to market, '" Lavery said, in a statement. "This project really shows the importance of collaborations with local people", he says.

Scientists from Chicago's Field Museum and the Solomon Island's Zaira Resource Management Area have described the vika in detail in a new paper in the Journal of Mammalogy.

The new rat species is different from conventional rodents in terms of weight, length, and food choices. It lives in trees, and its teeth are strong enough to crack into coconuts, chewing circular holes in the shells to reach the meat inside.

Vika rats can be up to four times the size of normal black rats, weighing up to a kilogram and measuring about a foot and a half from nose to tail. In particular, they are home to a number of giant rats species. "It's one of the most astonishing discoveries made in the new millennium and not a moment too soon".

'It's getting to the stage for this rat that, if we hadn't discovered it now, it might never have gotten discovered, ' Lavery added.

'The area where it was found is one of the only places left with forest that hasn't been logged.

Knowing he'd found something special, Judge preserved the rat's remains and shipped them to the Queensland Museum in Australia. Conserving the species, Lavery emphasizes, has more than a biological component: it's also important culturally.

For decades, the people of the Solomon Island of Vanganu knew of the vika.

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