East Timor – Researchers found the fossils of seven giant rat species in East Timor, near Indonesia. The creatures were ten times bigger than today’s rodents and are believed to went extinct more than 1,000 years ago.

The team from the Australian National University stated that the rodents may have looked similar to modern rats, although their weight was between 1.5 to five kilograms.

Jaw bone of giant rat species discovered on East Timor, being compared with the same bone of a modern rat. Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

These fossils are the remains of four genera of murids, a group that includes rats, mice and gerbils from Indonesia. These creatures are believed to be herbivores, and there is a chance that humans ate them, as evidence shows that many of them were burnt due to cooking and had chewing marks.

Dr. Louys, from the research team, stated that the fossils could provide some evidence on the impacts of deforestation. Researchers believe that the species extinction coincided with the development of metal tools that enabled humans to clear the animal’s habitat.

Nevertheless, he says that massive deforestation and land clearing are the real causes of these species’ extinction. He warns that similar practices are being made in regions such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, ignoring the consequences that deforestation has in the survival of animal species.

Researchers stated that the earliest record of humans being on the East Timor region is from 46,000 years ago, suggesting that humans lived along with these “rats” for a long time until they went extinct. They want to unveil the behavior of humans on these regions and how it impacted the ecosystem.

These rats were the size of today’s cows, or even bigger. Some scientists believe that these huge animals may appear on Earth again, to fill the planet’s emptying eco space.

“Animals will evolve, over time, into whatever designs will enable them to survive and to produce offspring,” said geologist Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, from the University of Leicester, according to the Daily Mail UK.

He believes that given enough time, today’s rats could evolve into larger animals, a phenomenon seen today on “rat islands,” which are isolated regions where these animals introduced by humans have become the dominant species.

Source: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology