Giant Rat Discovered in East Timor Cave

September 11, 2011 / East Timor, Asia
Giant Rat Discovered in East Timor Cave

Upper toothrows of East Timor's extinct giant rat (left), the biggest rat that ever lived, compared with the skull of a black rat (right). Photo via CSIRO

Archaeological excavations within a cave in East Timor have uncovered the bones of the largest rat that ever lived.

With a body weight of around six kilograms (13 pounds), this giant rat is about four kilograms (nine pounds) larger than any rat living today. Two kilogram (four pound) rats are found in rainforest in the Philippines and New Guinea.

The excavations yielded a total of 13 species of rodents, 11 of which are new to science, and eight of the which weighed a kilogram (two pounds) or more. According to carbon dating, the large rat, and most of its companions lived until around 1000 to 2000 years ago. Only one of the smaller species unearthed is found on Timor today.

“People have lived on the island of Timor for over 40,000 years and hunted and ate rats throughout this period, yet extinctions did not occur until quite recently. We think this shows people used to live sustainably on Timor until around 1000 to 2000 years ago. This means extinctions aren’t inevitable when people arrive on an island. Large scale clearing of forest for agriculture probably caused the extinctions, and this may have only been possible following the introduction of metal tools.” – Dr. Ken Aplin of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Six other new species of rats were found in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. It is unknown whether any of them may be still living on the island as they have evaded detection so far and further surveys are needed.

For more information, check out the paper Quaternary murid rodents of Timor by Ken Aplin of CSIRO and Kris Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution which was recently published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

Now that’s what I call a rat! [CSIRO]

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