A new species of rat – believed to be four times larger than a regular rat – has been discovered on Vangunu Island in the Western Province.
The creature, named Uromys vika, is almost 0.5m in length, lives in the the trees and, incredibly, cracks coconuts with its teeth.
The creature has long been spoken of by locals in the area, but had not been discovered by any researchers until the find was revealed to the world yesterday. Tyrone Lavery, a researcher at the Field Museum, in Chicago, made the discovery.
He had searched for the creature since 2010.
“When I first met with the people from Vangunu Island in the Solomons, they told me about a rat native to the island that they called vika, which lived in the trees,” Mr Lavery told BBC News.
“I started to question if it really was a separate species, or if people were just calling regular black rats ‘vika’.” he said.
In November 2015 word got out of a local conservation ranger spotting a large rat tumbling from a tree cut down from logging in the area.
The fall killed the rat, but the ranger shipped the specimen to the Queensland Museum. Dr Lavery was working there.
“As soon as I examined the specimen, I knew it was something different,” he said.
“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 testing, Dr Lavery confirmed it was a new species. It has a long, scaly tail that researchers believed help it grip while travelling through the trees and evolved the large, sharp teeth which they use, according to the locals, to nibble into coconuts.
The creatures are likely to be immediately classified as critically endangered, due to threat that they face from logging. According to the BBC, about 90 per cent of the island’s trees have already been cut down.
Dr. Lavery will be speaking on the Rats of the Solomon Islands next week during the National Environmental Symposium to be held on the 2nd – 6th October here in Honiara