Nav: Home

Two new species of 'tweezer-beaked hopping rats' discovered in Philippines

June 06, 2019

Just about everybody loves peanut butter. We put it on sandwiches and in candy, we use it to trick our dogs into taking their heartworm pills, and, when we have to, we bait mouse traps with it. But, as scientists learned when trapping rodents in the mountains of the Philippines, peanut butter isn't for everyone. A highly distinctive (weird-looking) group of rodents sometimes called "tweezer-beaked hopping rats" don't care for peanut butter, but love earthworms. Armed with this knowledge (and worms), the scientists discovered two new species of the tweezer-beaked hopping rats. The discovery was announced in the Journal of Mammalogy.

"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," says lead author Eric Rickart, a curator of the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah. The researchers knew that some of these critters had been found in the area before, but the rats weren't biting. One finally stumbled into a live trap, but it still didn't touch the peanut butter bait. The team tried to figure out what it did eat; when they offered it an earthworm, the rat, in Rickart's words, "slurped it up like a kid eating spaghetti."

"Once we began baiting the traps with live, wriggling earthworms, we discovered that these little animals are common and widespread," says Larry Heaney, a curator at the Field Museum and a co-author of the study. The field team, led by the late Danny Balete of the Field Museum, began finding more species that specialize in eating earthworms, including the two new species described in their recent paper.

The new species are named Rhynchomys labo and Rhynchomys mingan. The genus name, Rhynchomys, comes from the ancient Greek rhyncos for snout and mys for "mouse," a reference to the tweezer-beaked hopping rats' long pointed noses. The species names are for the mountains the rats are found on, Mount Labo and Mount Mingan.

"They're quite bizarre," says Rickart. "They hop around on their sturdy hind legs and large hind feet, almost like little kangaroos. They have long, delicate snouts, and almost no chewing teeth."

"They're very docile, very cute," adds Heaney. "Their fur is short and very, very dense, like a plush toy. They make little runways through the forest and patrol these little trails, day and night, looking for earthworms."

The two new rodents are examples of the generally poorly-known, incredible biodiversity of the Philippines, which boasts more unique species of mammals per square mile than anywhere else on Earth. "Up until the late '90s, we all thought maximum mammalian diversity was in the lowland tropical rainforest" explains Heaney. But Heaney, Rickart, and their colleagues found that mountains like those on the Philippines were the perfect breeding ground for new species of mammals. The different habitats at different elevations on a mountain can lead to different adaptations by its mammal residents, and their diversity actually increases as you go up higher into the mountains. Furthermore, the mammals on one mountain are isolated from their relatives on other mountains. Generations of isolation eventually lead to new species forming on different mountains, the same way that unique species emerge on islands. "Just about every time we've gone to a new area of Luzon with mountains, we've discovered that there are unique species," says Rickart.

But the Philippines' biodiversity is under threat. The islands are among the most extensively deforested places on Earth, with only about 6% of the original old growth tropical forest remaining. That's a big problem for the watershed. High mountains in the Philippines receive between 10 and 20 feet of rain every year, leaving steep slopes vulnerable to typhoons. The mulch-carpeted mossy forests in the mountains help to soak up that rain "like a giant sponge," says Heaney. "If you don't have an intact watershed and forest up in the mountains, you're going to have massive floods and landslides, because the water floods off instead of getting absorbed into mossy ground cover."

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 they're found. "Every time we find a reason to say, 'This place is unique,' that tells people that it's worthy of protection," says co-author Phillip Alviola of the University of the Philippines.
-end-
All of the work on this project was conducted with permits and strong support of the Philippine Department of Natural Resources. The study was contributed to by authors from the University of Utah/Utah Natural History Museum, the Field Museum, the University of Kansas, the University of the Philippines, and Louisiana State University.

University of Utah

Related Biodiversity Articles:

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.
Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.
Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.
Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.
Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.
Mapping global biodiversity change
A new study, published in Science, which focuses on mapping biodiversity change in marine and land ecosystems shows that loss of biodiversity is most prevalent in the tropic, with changes in marine ecosystems outpacing those on land.
What if we paid countries to protect biodiversity?
Researchers from Sweden, Germany, Brazil and the USA have developed a financial mechanism to support the protection of the world's natural heritage.
Grassland biodiversity is blowing in the wind
Temperate grasslands are the most endangered but least protected ecosystems on Earth.
The loss of biodiversity comes at a price
A University of Cordoba research team ran the numbers on the impact of forest fires on emblematic species using the fires in Spain's Doñana National Park and Segura mountains in 2017 as examples
More Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.