In the seminal 1980's movie The Princess Bride, the existence of R.O.U.S's (that's Rodents of Unusual Size for the uninitiated) is up for debate, only for the characters to find themselves under attack by said creatures later on in the movie. Similarly, scientists have long debated whether mysterious giant rats exist in the Solomon Islands, and have suddenly stumbled upon them.
For years locals have mentioned the “vika” – a huge rat that climbs trees. The rumor puzzled scientists, who despite looking, could never catch sight of the elusive animal. Well, it exists, and it’s a whopping 46 centimeters (18 inches) long. The discovery is published in the Journal of Mammology.
The rat has been officially called Uromys vika after its local nickname and was discovered by mammologist Tyrone Lavery, along with John Vendi, and Hikuna Judge.
"The new species, Uromys vika, is pretty spectacular – it's a big, giant rat," said Lavery, a post-doctoral researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago and lead author of the research. "It's the first rat discovered in 80 years from Solomons, and it's not like people haven't been trying – it was just so hard to find."
The Solomon Islands are geographically isolated in the South Pacific making them a goldmine of weird and wonderful creatures that exist nowhere else on Earth.
Lavery headed to Vangunu Island where locals told him of a mysterious tree-dwelling rat. "I was excited because I had just started my Ph.D., and I'd read a lot of books about people who go on adventures and discover new species," he said.
But despite years of searching, nothing showed up, and Lavery considered giving up on the whole idea. "I started to question if it really was a separate species, or if people were just calling regular black rats 'vika,'” he said.
But then, just as all hope was lost, bingo. One of the rats fell out of a tree.
"As soon as I examined the specimen, I knew it was something different," said Lavery. "There are only eight known species of native rat from the Solomon Islands, and looking at the features on its skull, I could rule out a bunch of species right away."
After DNA tests and comparisons with other species, the rat was confirmed to be new.
Although the rat is yet to be observed cracking coconuts, it does chomp through ngali nuts. “If they could get through a ngali nutshell, they could get through a coconut,” Lavery told The Guardian.
Unfortunately, the rat has already been classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. "It's getting to the stage for this rat that, if we hadn't discovered it now, it might never have gotten discovered,” Lavery said.