Stumbling upon a new species of giant, woolly rat The Giant Woolly rat was discovered in 2009 in a Papua New Guinea forest. (Kris Helgen/Mark Gurney)
Stumbling upon a new species of giant, woolly rat
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How would you feel if you encountered a rat almost three feet long? Smithsonian's Dr. Kristofer Helgen was overjoyed. The rat was discovered by Kris and other members of a BBC expedition team in a remote volcano in Papua New Guinea. They named it the Bosavi woolly rat, after its thick fur and its home on Mount Bosavi.

The Bosavi woolly rat has yet to receive its scientific name. Scientific naming reflects how an organism is classified in the tree of life, which biologists are still sorting out for this rat. They do know that it belongs in the same family, the Muridae, as our common city black rats and Norway rats. They also know that it belongs in the genus Mallomys, a group that includes other oversized rats, but its unique identifier, the species name, has yet to be announced.
 
What makes something a species can be a surprisingly hard question to answer. Many scientists think of a species as a group of living organisms that can reproduce and pass genes on to the next generation. Historically, scientists identified species by the way animals looked (their morphology) and behaved, sorting them into categories based on things like arrangement of teeth and diet. Species were sometimes misclassified if they looked similar, but were actually from different evolutionary lines.
 
Modern classification of species goes deeper to include other types of evidence, such as genetics that reveal evolutionary relationships. Scientists analyze DNA to determine how closely related an organism is to other, similar organisms, and where it fits into the evolutionary tree. Finding and classifying new species gets us closer to understanding the invaluable biodiversity of Earth.
 
Even for mammals, there is more biodiversity to discover, and Kris Helgen has discovered about 100 new species and is always on the lookout for more. See how he does it in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast on Thursday, April 28, 2016, titled How to Discover New Mammal Species. It airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website, and Kris will discuss and answer questions live from the National Museum of Natural History. Get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was Dr. Kristofer Helgen happy to see a giant rat?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (18)
  • kbeatty-cel
    4/25/2016 - 10:28 a.m.

    This is definitely newsworthy. Scientist have discovered a whole new species waiting to be identified. As one species declines, it seems as though another is discovered. Which, is definitely interesting in the animal world. New discoveries lead to more knowledge.

  • eliset-bag
    4/25/2016 - 06:43 p.m.

    The only person that would possibly be happy to see a rat would be the strangest human being I have ever known. But, that would be cool to see a giant rat but I would be scared to death.

  • briannec-ste
    4/25/2016 - 08:57 p.m.

    When I first read this my first thought was that the ROUS's from the princess bride were coming back. Then i thought that it was cool that they are still finding animals in this day and age.

  • ravend-bag
    4/25/2016 - 11:29 p.m.

    I think that he was happy because he just discovered a new species and that it was very important for this discovery

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/27/2016 - 02:06 a.m.

    The scientists might have been able to stumble upon a new species of giant wooly rats which they had been able to see the giant wooly rats that hadn't been studied or discovered by any scientists. The scientists might have wanted to discover a new species of giant wooly rats which they had been a same rat family that are smaller and its genus family is somewhat a family of the giant wooly rats. The people might have been able to see that the giant wooly rats hadn't been seen or discovered yet that it had been their first time seeing the giant wooly rats. Scientists had been able to classify the giant wooly rats that they had been able to study it which they had been able to classify it by its family and its genus family.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why was Dr. Kristofer Helgen happy to see a giant rat?
    Answer: I know that Dr. Kristofer Helgen is happy to see a giant rat because he hadn't seen such big rat that is three feet long than any rats that are barely three feet long.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    4/27/2016 - 11:48 a.m.

    He was happy because he made a discovery that no one else ever had and that this was something completely new to most people's knowledge.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/27/2016 - 02:07 p.m.

    Its fantastic to be able to know that there are still species that have yet to be discovered. I honestly wouldn't want to come across one of these things being that its a rat and all but its still cool that they have a picture for it.

  • holdeno-3-bar
    4/27/2016 - 03:21 p.m.

    Dr. Helgen was happy to see a giant rat because it was a new species of rat. As the doctor talked about Dr. Helgen, he said that "Kris Helgen has discovered about 100 species and is always on the lookout for more" (par. 5) Dr. Helgen wants to discover new species. So, he was happy to find the Bosavi woolly rat.
    I could understand this article because I know taxonomy.

  • julianc-bag
    4/27/2016 - 07:33 p.m.

    I don't think that anyone would want to see a really big rat.

  • ericksone1-gau
    4/28/2016 - 01:48 p.m.

    I think he wanted to discover a new species and he got his wish.

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