Giant Rat Species in East Timor Was Largest Ever

Fossils reveal a rat that was 10 times the size of today's variety.

Fossils of the largest rat ever known to have existed were discovered during an expedition in East Timor, according to archaeologists with The Australian National University (ANU).

The biggest-ever find was part of a collection of newly found fossils representing seven new species of giant rat.

"They are what you would call mega-fauna," explained ANU lead researcher Julien Louys in a press release. "The biggest one is about five kilos [11 pounds], the size of a small dog."

"Just to put that in perspective," he added, "a large modern rat would be about half a kilo [1 pound]."

The fossil finds occurred under the aegis of a project Louys is leading to learn more about the earliest movement of humans in Southeast Asia. He said the giant rats lived among East Timor's first humans some 46,000 years ago, based upon the discovery of rat bones from the time that had cut and burn marks on them.

East Timor's humans went on to live with the giant rats for thousands of years. But then, about one thousand years ago, the supersized rats disappeared. Why?

"The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor," said Louys. "People could start to clear forests at a much larger scale."

Louys presented his findings at a recent Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology gathering in Texas.

Julien Louys, of The Australian National University, holds the jaw bone of a giant rat species discovered on East Timor, up against a comparison with the same, much smaller, bone of a modern rat.

January 11, 2011 - They are elusive. They squeal. And they eat almost anything, even each other. And because of all of that, public health officials have not developed any reliable way to curtail the rising population of rats. Add to that budget cuts and cities like New York City, become inundated with the rodents. Frustrated subway workers are drawing attention to their workplace rat problem by offering a free MetroCard to whoever snaps the picture of the nastiest rat in the subway. TWU Local 100, the Transport Workers Union, launched the site, Rat Free Subways in October, 2011, according to Jim Gannon, the union's director of communications.

"There were fewer refuse pickups and the garbage was piling up in some stations," Gannon said. "And if you have a food source, you have rats." The Jamaica Center - Parsons/Archer subway station in Queens, New York has had an ongoing problem with rats, Gannon said. This rat above is feasting on some trash at the station.

Besides getting signatures for a petition to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to adopt a system-wide "rat eradication initiative," the site offers riders a place to "feel some kind of ownership," Gannon said.

The Rat Free Subways site also offers a share your "Rat Tale" section for subway riders to vent about their face to face rodent encounters. "Aggressive rats are bolder about coming onto the platforms, and have even been known to bite riders," according to the web site.

This photo of a giant rat, was reportedly taken after it was discovered at a Foot Locker in the Bronx. Another huge rat was reportedly stabbed with a pitchfork in Brooklyn last year. That one was believed to be a Gambian pouched rat and may have once been a pet or descended from a pet.

The subway workers efforts have paid off for the Parsons/Archer stop. The MTA added trash pickups for the spot, Gannon said. "There are health issues for the workers and for riders," Gannon said. "The subway transit is everywhere in the city. And if you have an exploding population of rats down there. They are going to come up and be everywhere." The Rat Free Subways contest ends January 15. Rats Help Their Friends Get Free