Scientists have finally found a giant rat species in a remote zone of the South Pacific, in the Solomon Islands. It’s nearly half a meter, and bites with so much strength it can even open a coconut. The discovery was published in the Journal of Mammalogy, and performed by Australian researchers in conjunction with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

The “Vikas” have been seen by people from the Solomon Islands of Vanganu since they inhabited the area, but scientists always thought the rodents were just old stories after not finding any proof of their existence.

Image credit: Velizar Simeonovski The Field Museum / Scientific American
Image credit: Velizar Simeonovski The Field Museum / Scientific American

This rodent species represents a unique part of Vanganu community’s culture and history. For hundreds of years, the natives saw vikas – also known as Uromys Vika or Vanganu giant rat – while climbing trees to hunt possums, and many stories and songs were written about them. Today, the world has certainty of the big rats’ existence finally.

Finding this type of rodents was tough. They usually live at the top of trees in this remote and rainy island, where the terrain is rough and difficult due to the thick vegetation. “It’s quite rare and very difficult to find,” said Tyrone Lavery, a mammalogist at the University of Queensland, Australia.

“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. 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.” However, when Lavery began his research without any result, he said he “started to question if it really was a separate species, or if people were just calling regular black rats ‘vika’”.

Scientists and the people of Vanganu worked together to locate the animal, using traps to capture or to photograph the animals at the highest part of trees. However, the time passed, and the only thing they could find was piles of nuts, with circular holes chewed in them, deposited at the bottom of trees. Not even one big rat death or alive.

The discovery of a species almost extinct

Unfortunately, now that the scientific community has acknowledged about the large rodent species is actually real, it fears that the rat can soon become extinct due to the forestry companies that are cutting down the rainforest where the animals live.

The Solomon Islands—located in the northeast of Australia, between Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea— is a nation composed of nearly one thousand islands, with a unique coral reef biodiversity, vegetation, and wildlife, that have lived in isolation for thousands of years. Because of how rare the rat is, the scientists who authored the study said its species would be soon designated as “critically endangered.”

Image credit: National Geographic
Image credit: National Geographic

The Vanganu community, which is very protective of the area where it lives, “has the vision that they don’t want the logging on their tribal land, and they want to preserve (its) forest.” Due to the danger that the Vika species could face, the people of the island are “hoping that it will help attract some support for some conservation in the Vanganu area,” Lavery said referring to the rat discovery.

The area where the giant rat was found is one of the only zones that has not been logged yet, urging scientists to document this rat and “find additional support for the Zaira Conservation Area on Vangunu.”

Particularities of the immense rat

Many Uromys genus species look like this rodent but are quite different. The Vikas have a bigger skull with different genetic testing, have a yellow fur, usually hunt at night, and live at the top of kapuchu tree where most of the predators can’t find them. Lavery estimated that the total area of habitat that the rat could potentially live in comprises just 81 square kilometers.

The rat can also weigh up to two pounds, four times more than a normal black rat. The first rodent the scientists found, although it didn’t have a part of its tail, was estimated to measure around 45cm or 18 inches long.

“It’s a remarkable new discovery of a mosaic tailed rat that found its way from either Australia or New Guinea several million years ago,” Tim Flannery, a world-leading expert in the mammalogy of the Solomon Islands, said. “It’s one of the most astonishing discoveries made in the new millennium and not a moment too soon. It’s highly endangered by logging and urgent action is required to prevent its extinction.” – The Guardian reported.

Lavery said that the giant rat might not eat only coconuts, but also ngali nuts – a local nut as hard to crack as any other coconut, according to the researcher. This finding gave the group some tracks to estimate the force the animal has in its bite.

Source: Mammalogy