Giant rat found in ‘lost volcano’
A new species of giant rat has been discovered deep in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. The rat, which has no fear of humans, measures 82cm long, placing it among the largest species of rat known anywhere in the world. The creature, which has not yet been formally described, was discovered by an expedition team filming the BBC programme Lost Land of the Volcano. It is one of a number of exotic animals found by the expedition team. The new species of rat is one of the largest ever found. A new species of giant rat has been discovered deep in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. The rat, which has no fear of humans, measures 82cm long, placing it among the largest species of rat known anywhere in the world. The creature, which has not yet been formally described, was discovered by an expedition team filming the BBC programme Lost Land of the Volcano. It is one of a number of exotic animals found by the expedition team. Like the other exotic species, the rat is believed to live within the Mount Bosavi crater, and nowhere else. “This is one of the world’s largest rats. It is a true rat, the same kind you find in the city sewers,” says Dr Kristofer Helgen, a mammalogist based at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History who accompanied the BBC expedition team. Initially, the giant rat was first captured on film by an infrared camera trap, which BBC wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan set up in the forest on the slopes of the volcano. The expedition team from the BBC Natural History Unit recorded the rat rummaging around on the forest floor, and were awed by its size. Immediately, they suspected it could be a species never before recorded by science, but they needed to see a live animal to be sure. Then trackers accompanying the team managed to trap a live specimen.
“I had a cat and it was about the same size as this rat,” says Buchanan. The trapped rat measured 82cm in length from its nose to its tail, and weighed approximately 1.5kg. It had a silver-brown coat of thick long fur, which the scientists who examined it believe may help it survive the wet and cold conditions that can occur within the high volcano crater. The location where the rat was discovered lies at an elevation of over 1,000m. Initial investigations suggest the rat belongs to the genus Mallomys, which contains a handful of other out-sized species. It has provisionally been called the Bosavi woolly rat, while its scientific name has yet to be agreed. The giant rat was first sighted using an infrared camera trap. Other rodents, the group of animals that includes rats, grow to a bigger size. For example, the largest rodent of all is the capybara, which lives in or near freshwater in South America. It can grow up to 130cm long and weigh up to 65kg. The Philippines is also home to a few species of cloud rat which can reach over 2kg in weight. But of the true rats, which includes urban brown and black rats that belong to the genus Rattus, few can match the new species. In 2007, an expedition to New Guinea led by Conservation International discovered another closely related giant woolly rat, which can weigh up to 1.4kg. It also belongs within the genus Mallomys. However, that species lives in the Foja Mountains, part of the Mamberamo Basin. Mount Bosavi, where the new rat was found, is an extinct volcano that lies deep in the remote Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The expedition team entered the crater to explore pristine forest, where few humans have set foot. Even members of the Kasua tribe, who acted as trackers for the expedition, live outside the crater, which is 4km wide and has walls up to 1km high, trapping the creatures that live within.
The island which includes Papua New Guinea and New Guinea is famous for the number and diversity of the rats and mice that live there. Over 57 species of true “Murid” rats and mice can be found on the island. The larger rats are often caught by hunters and eaten. A host of weird and wonderful animals has been discovered by a BBC expedition which ventured deep into some of the world’s most remote rainforest. The team explored the crater of a pristine giant extinct volcano located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Accompanied by the first biologists ever to set foot in the crater, the team filmed strange spiders, giant caterpillars and tree-living kangaroos. Series producer Steve Greenwood describes what they found. “The BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol has been making filmed expeditions to remote parts of the rainforest since 2006, firstly to Borneo for the programme Expedition Borneo, and then Guyana for Lost Land of the Jaguar,” he says. “When it came to organising the third expedition, the team were desperate to take on the challenge of New Guinea, the largest and most mountainous tropical island in the world.” To film the latest programme, Lost Land of the Volcano, the team visited the crater of Mount Bosavi, a pristine extinct volcano located in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea. The area is so remote and inaccessible that no people live in the crater. Even villagers in the few scattered settlements surrounding the volcano rarely ventured in, due to the difficulty of climbing the slopes leading to a 2,800m summit. “‘If you fall when climbing in,’ one village elder said, ‘no one will ever find your body,’” recounts Greenwood. The expedition team comprised a filming team of two cameramen, two sound recordists, two directors and support staff, along with a medic specialised in remote areas and an expert in ropes and climbing trees.
They joined with a number of expert scientists, specialising in mammals, birds, frogs, fish and bats among others, led by Professor George McGavin of Oxford University and the University of Derby in the UK. Together they found a wealth of new creatures, during the three-week expedition. The team can’t be sure until scientists have had a chance to formally evaluate and describe the animals found, but they suspect they may have discovered up to 40 new species, including approximately 16 species of frog, one species of gecko, at least three new species of fish, 20 species of insect and spider and one new species of bat. “Highlights include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo Grunter, so named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder,” says Greenwood. They also found a Doria’s tree kangaroo, which wandered close to camp. Tree kangaroos are notoriously wary of people, but this particular one seemed unfazed by the team’s presence. That confirmed what the expedition team suspected, that the huge crater walls had effectively cut off the animals living within the volcano crater, allowing them to be naive to people. As well as large creatures, the team also encountered a variety of odd-looking insects including bizarre spiders.On one trip outside the crater, they found a giant caterpillar surrounded by hundreds of smaller maggots. The caterpillar appears to have tried to escape the maggots, which were attempting to eat it. Broadcast of The Lost Land of the Volcano series will begin on BBC One on Tuesday 8 September at 2100 BST. The discovery of the Bosavi woolly rat is broadcast as part of the series on BBC One on Tuesday 22 September. A ‘lost land of the weird’ . news from news.bbc.co.uk
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