Locals living on the island of Vangunu in the Solomon Islands sing songs about vika, a giant, tree-dwelling rat that can crack open coconuts with its teeth. But scientists had never seen it. Tyrone Lavery, a conservation ecologist at the University of Queensland, searched for this rat for years. But the closest he got was a mysterious dropping found on the forest floor that contained the hair of some unidentified species of rodent. Now the Vanganu Giant Rat is no longer legend, but scientific fact. Hikuna Judge, a ranger at the Zaira Resource Management Area on the island, found an injured specimen scampering away from a felled tree. He and Lavery reported this new species, Uromys vika, in the Journal of Mammalogy. It’s the first new rat species discovered on the islands in about 80 years. Uromys vika can weigh more than 2 pounds and stretch up to a foot and a half from nose to tail. The rare species will begin its scientific life listed as critically endangered because the island is losing rain forest habitat to logging.
Tree lobster isn’t extinct after all
The tree lobster, one of the rarest insects on Earth, has lived a rather twisted life story. Scientifically known as Dryococelus australis, this 6-inch-long stick bug with a lobster-esque exoskeleton once occupied Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand. In 1918, rats escaping a capsized steamship swam ashore. The tree lobsters became rat chow. Two years later, all tree lobsters seemed to have vanished, and by 1960 they were declared extinct. But in the latest chapter for what has also been called the Lord Howe stick insect, scientists compared the genomes of living stick bugs from a small island nearby to those of museum specimens, revealing that they are indeed the same species. The resulting paper, published in Current Biology, resolves an identity question that has impeded conservation efforts for years, and sets the scale to effectively resurrect the insect. “This allows us a second chance to bring it back to the island,” said Alexander Mikheyev, an ecologist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology who led the study.