People from Vangunu in the Solomon Islands have for decades told stories about “vika,” a giant tree-dwelling rat with teeth sharp enough to bite through a coconut.Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery of the Field Museum in Chicago heard these seemingly outrageous stories when he first visited the islands in 2010. Intrigued, he brought a team to investigate a forested area, but the scientists came out rat-less.A logging company later entered the same region and focused their chopping work on a big tree.“They cut down the tree, and the rat came out of it,” Lavery recounted to Seeker. The terrified gigantic rat, which went scurrying past the equally stunned loggers, was indeed the legendary vika.Described in the Journal of Mammalogy, the rodent was given the scientific name Uromys vika. It is the first new rat species to be discovered in the Solomon Islands in nearly a century.Local animal expert Hikuna Judge, a co-author of the paper, obtained one of the rats, permitting detailed study of its anatomy. First, the researchers noted the rodent’s size and heft: a foot and a half long, and 2.2 pounds. In comparison, rats typically seen in American homes and alleys weigh less than half of a pound, on average.RELATED: Your Ancestors Ate Roasted Rodents Like BurgersJudge, Lavery, and their colleagues compared vika’s skull and other features to those of rodent species in museum collections. They also conducted a genetic analysis using a DNA sample. The research confirmed that the giant rat does in fact represent a new species.
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