Thursday, 14 April 2016

New species of Manus Island rat named after detainees in 'solidarity' gesture – via Mike Playfair

Team including Tim Flannery dub previously unknown species, which weighs nearly half a kilogram, Rattus detentus – Latin for ‘detained’

Wednesday 13 April 2016 23.04 BST
Last modified on Thursday 14 April 201602.26 BST

Manus Island’s newest “detainee” may have been on the island hundreds of thousands of years.

Rattus detentus, an ancient, isolated and previously unknown species of the genus Rattus – a rat – has been so named for the Latin “detained”, “in reference to the isolation of ... Manus Island and to the recent use of the island to detain people seeking political and/or economic asylum in Australia”.

The animal has been described for the first time, in the Journal of Mammalogy, by an international team of scientists including a former Australian of the Year, the mammalogist and palaeontologist Prof Tim Flannery.

Detentus is known to live only on Manus Island, and only in two areas.

It is an “island giant”, according to Flannery, larger than almost any rat across the Melanesian archipelago. A typical detentus weighs nearly half a kilogram, with short, very coarse fur and a short tail.

Over millennia of isolation on Manus, detentus has adapted to conditions. It has powerful front incisors but small molars, suggesting it uses its front teeth to break open hard nuts. Detentus is, according to Flannery, an early branch of the Rattus genus found across the Melanesian archipelago.

Before confirmation detentus existed, Flannery said scientists had suspected there was a large rat endemic to the island. He said it had been exciting and “an immense privilege” to be able to discover and name the new species. “I’ve been looking for this rat for 30 years,” he said.

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