Scientists Find Two New Species Of Tweezer-Beaked Hopping Rats

After failing to bait the rodents with peanut butter, scientists in the Philippines and the US switched to using earthworms to finally discover two new species of rats living in the mountains of the Philippines.

AsianScientist (Jul. 31, 2019) – Two new species of rodents have been discovered in the mountains of the Philippines. The researchers, who ran into some difficulties in baiting and trapping the elusive rodents, published their findings in the Journal of Mammalogy.

The Philippines has incredible biodiversity, boasting more unique species of mammals per square mile than anywhere else on earth. Up until the late 1990s, it was assumed that the maximum mammalian diversity was in the lowland tropical rainforest.

However, when researchers led by Dr. Eric Rickart of the University of Utah, US, ventured into the mountains of the Philippines, they found that the area was the perfect breeding ground for new species of mammals. They noted that different habitats at different elevations on a mountain can lead to different adaptations by its mammal residents, and the biodiversity in those habitats increase with height above sea level.

In the present study, Rickart’s team began their search for new mammals by placing baits around the mountainous areas of Luzon island.

“In the late 1980s we were doing standard mammalogy surveys and using standard baits that most rodents really like: a combination of peanut butter and slices of fried coconut. It was really attractive bait, it makes your mouth water,” Rickart said.

However, the rodents were not taking the bait, until one finally stumbled into a live trap. Even then it did not consume the peanut butter bait, only eating when the team offered it an earthworm. This was how the researchers managed to charactize two new species of rat, named Rhynchomys labo and Rhynchomys mingan. The genus name, Rhynchomys, comes from the ancient Greek word ‘rhyncos’ for ‘snout’ and ‘mys’ for ‘mouse,’ a reference to the rats’ long pointed noses, which have also earned them the nickname tweezer-beaked hopping rats. The species names are for the mountains the rats are found on, Mount Labo and Mount Mingan.

The researchers hope that the discovery of the two new species of tweezer-beaked hopping rats will serve as an argument for protecting the mountainous forests where the rodents are found.

The article can be found at: Rickart et al. (2019) Two New Species of Shrew-rats (Rhynchomys: Muridae: Rodentia) from Luzon Island, Philippines.


Source: University of Utah; Photo: Velizar Simeonovski/Field Museum, US.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist