According to a recent report, an Australian research team unearths fossils of the largest known rat species to date. Of the fossils, which were found in East Timor, the largest is 10 times larger than a regular rat, and as heavy as a modern-day small dog.
Dr Julien Louys, lead-author of the findings and researcher with the Australian National University’s School of Culture, History and Language, said that the fossils are remains of the largest rats that ever existed on the planet.
Dr. Louys explained that the rodents belong to mega-fauna since the largest specimen weighed about 11 pounds or five kilograms, which would make it as heavy as a small dog. Some of the largest rats that currently live on the planet are no heavier than 1.1 pounds or half a kilo.
The discovery was part of a larger project dubbed ‘From Sunda to Sahul’ whose purpose was to find more about human migrations across Southeast Asia. The team that discovered the giant rodents also plans to learn what pushed the giant rats to the brink of extinction.
Researchers estimate that the human settlements found in East Timor suggest that humans lived with the large rodents for millennia. Moreover, archeologists found rat bones that suggested rats were eaten by humans in those times.
“We know they’re eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks,”
Dr. Louys added.
Interestingly enough, humans and giant rats co-existed in Timor until a thousand years ago, when the rodents suddenly vanished. The team thinks that the major cause for extinction was improved metal tools that allowed humans to deforestate the areas much quicker and on a much larger scale.
Scientists now plan to resume their work on the ‘From Sunda to Sahul’ project and learn when the islands of Southeast Asia were first occupied by human settlers, how the event happened, and what challenges ecosystems faced because of human intervention on the islands.
The team hopes to later use all the data gathered in the project to help modern-day conservationist efforts. Louys said that his team was already looking for earliest human records and hints on how the islands looked like before humans’ arrival. The team argued that once they are able to learn what was on the islands before humans arrived there, they would be able to assess the scale of the impact settler had.
The findings were first unveiled last week at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Dallas, Texas.
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