Crazy jungle rodent is 11 million years old
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
March 9, 2006
The newly discovered species of rodent found in a marketplace in Central Laos turns out to not be so new after all.
The Laotian rock rat, as the long-whiskered and stubby-legged rodent is now known, is a species believed to have been extinct for 11 million years. It is a member of a family that, until now, was only known from the fossil record.
Called Kha-Nyou by local people, the species (Laonastes aenigmamus was first described by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researcher Dr. Robert Timmins after it was found on a table at a hunter’s market in central Laos. The organization continues to work in Laos to address the illegal wildlife trade, which has devastated animal populations.
After its initial discovery, scientists classified the animal in its own taxonomic family, but the creature’s new identity—Diatomydae—is reported in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Science.
Newly discovered rodent from Laos. Images courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) [top] and Mark A Klinger [bottom].
Scientists have yet to capture the strange rodent in the wild—the only specimen have come from the local meat market in Laos. Nevertheless, the discovery of such an ancient and unusual lends support to conservation efforts in the country, one of the poorest in Asia.
George Schaller, a naturalist with WCS and also a well-known author says that the focus on the rodent will be “wonderful for conservation. This way, Laos will be proud of that region for all these new animals, which will help conservation in that some of the forests, I hope, will be preserved.”
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A team of scientists working in Southeast Asia have discovered a strange long-whiskered rodent with stubby legs and a tail covered in dense hair. But don’t call it a squirrel. Or a rat. Because it’s actually more like a guinea pig or chinchilla. But not quite. In fact the new species, found in Laos by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups, is so unique it represents an entire new family of wildlife.