Surveys in Sulwesi mountains uncover new genus and species of rat

In the journal Biology Letters Field Museum Research Associate and Post-doctoral Fellow Jake Esselstyn and colleagues have published a description of a fascinating new genus and species of rat, Paucidentomys vermidax, from their survey work on Mount Latimojong and Mount Gandangdewata on Sulawesi Indonesia.  The new mammal is called a shrew-rat because although is a rat, it is related to similar “shrew-rats” from the Philippines with elongated skulls and rostra. Some of these are species that have been discovered and described by Field Museum Curator of Mammals Larry Heaney and his colleagues.  What makes this species special is that it has lost all it molars through evolutionary specialization.  All other known rodents, including the Philippine shrew-rats have gnawing incisors and grinding molars for eating a wide variety of food items from seeds to hard-bodied insects.  The Sulawesi Shrew-rat has completely lost its molars and is almost certainly a specialist on earthworms and other soft bodied invertebrates that it finds in the moist understory of mature upper-elevation tropical forest (above 1500m).  The holotype of the new species was prepared by Mammal Division staff in Mammal Division Prep Lab. 

The greatly elongated skull and mandible of Paucidentomys vermidax, a new genus of rodent from Sulawesi.

Photo: David Paul