Fossils of Seven Giant Rat Species Found on East Timor

Posted on November 6, 2015

Jaw bone comaprison of East Timor giant rat to modern rat

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered fossils of seven giant rat species on East Timor. The largest of these giant rat species was ten times the size of a modern rats. Dr Julien Louys, of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language, is holding up the jaw bone of one of the ancient rat species next to the jaw bone of a modern rat.

Dr. Louys says in the announcement, "They are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog. Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo."

The researchers are trying to determine why the giant rats died out. Humans begin to inhabit East Time at least 46,000 years ago and they lived with the giant rats for thousands of years. The humans ate the giant rats but the researchers think it is the clearing of forests when metal tools arrived that may have led to the demise of the enormous rats.

Dr. Louys says, "We know they're eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks. The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale."

Dr. Louys presented his findings on the giant East Timor rats at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology in Texas. He just returned from the expedition in August.

Photo: Stuart Hay/ANU