Scientists Find Giant, 15-Pound Rat. (Don't Worry, It's Extinct.)

By Allison Bond | July 26, 2010 5:23 pm

giant ratThe rats scuttling around the tracks of the New York City subway pale in comparison to a gargantuan species recently discovered in East Indonesia. In fact, the recently discovered rat tipped the scales at a somewhat frightening 13 pounds. That’s sizably heftier than today’s house rat (which averages 5 ounces) and burliest wild rats (which weigh about four-and-a-half pounds). This mega-rat lived in Timor until it went extinct between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago. It was one of 11 new species discovered at the excavation site–eight of which weighed more than two pounds, and only one of which survives today.

But the now-extinct rats didn’t die off until well after humans first arrived, according to LiveScience:

“People have lived on the island of Timor for over 40,000 years and hunted and ate rats throughout this period, yet extinctions did not occur until quite recently,” said study researcher Ken Aplin… adding that the arrival of humans to an area doesn’t necessarily have to equate with extinctions… “Large-scale clearing of forest for agriculture probably caused the extinctions, and this may have only been possible following the introduction of metal tools.”

East Indonesia is a hotspot for rat evolution, with unique species found on each island, and the possibility of finding more.

“Although less than 15 percent of Timor’s original forest cover remains, parts of the island are still heavily forested, so who knows what might be out there?” [researcher] Aplin said.

Which is fine with us–as long as they stay far, far away from our homes.

Related content:
Discoblog: Weird Science Roundup: Super-Rats, Heart-Attack Virus, and the Real Breakfast of Champions
Magazine: English Super-Rats
Magazine: A-maze-ing Mole Rats

Image: flickr / korobukkuru

MORE ABOUT: evolution, Indonesia, rats
  • http://untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    I hate to drop the total nerd perspective here, but the things are friendly and intelligent. So long as you manage to keep them outside, I’ve never really understood why squirrel = good and rat = evil, a 15 pound rat might be more interesting as a pet than a house cat =)

  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    Capybaras are still the world’s largest rodent and can weigh up to 65 kilos. They even look like giant tailless rats.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capybara

  • JMW

    Why does this make me think of “Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, . . . It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”?

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Squirrels and capybaras don’t live in and eat garbage. I suspect the common fear/hatred of vermin is actually pretty evolutionarily reasonable — they spread disease and eat food supplies. It’s like the ickiness of dead bodies.

    Here in NYC, there are tons of squirrels and tons of rats. The rats run around the subway tracks and garbage cans at night; the squirrels run around the parks. Small wonder people like the squirrels more.

  • Aishwarya

    Rats also climb up my curtains and refuse to be chased out of my room.

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