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. The rat was 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. Biologists are still sorting it 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. It is a group that includes other oversized rats. But, its unique identifier - the species name - has yet to be announced.
 
What makes something a species? This 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. Genetics 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. Kris Helgen has discovered about 100 new species. He is always on the lookout for more. See how he does it in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. It airs on Thursday, April 28, 2016. It is titled, How to Discover New Mammal Species (11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website). 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 (124)
  • giavannac-orv
    4/22/2016 - 12:16 p.m.

    because it was unique

    • javantej2-hei
      4/26/2016 - 10:59 a.m.

      I agree with you on that.

  • ecotn-wim
    4/22/2016 - 12:50 p.m.

    Because it was found in a volcanoe and it was 3 feet long and is related to the black and Norway rats.

  • lbocc-wim
    4/22/2016 - 12:51 p.m.

    I think Dr. Kristofer Helgen was happy to see a giant rat because he knew he was discovering something new. He didn't no what to name it because it was yet to be announced. He could tell it was a type of rat because of the way it looked, and how they behaved.

  • mwils-wim
    4/22/2016 - 12:52 p.m.

    It is cool i didn't know it was that easy for an animal to breed a species that is related in the family. The wooly rat probably reproduced with a different animal and created a new species. It is exciting to see something new appear on the planet and reproduce more of it's kind.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    4/22/2016 - 12:58 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helgen was happy to see a giant rat because that giant rat is a newly discovered species. According to the article, "Biologists are still sorting it out for this rat" and "its unique identifier - the species name - has yet to be announced". I was interested in this article because I wanted to know what the animal on the picture was.

  • nicolettem-2-bar
    4/22/2016 - 01:31 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helgen was happy to see a giant rat because "its unique identifier" the species name hasn't been decided yet. Meaning this is a somewhat new species of rat that hasn't been discovered yet. I was so suprised when I read this article because I had no idea there were rats 3 feet long!

  • gerardoc-612-
    4/22/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    He was happy because she had a newly different type of rat that no one has ever discovered.

  • sheridanm-6-bar
    4/22/2016 - 04:08 p.m.

    Dr.Kristofer was happy to see a giant rat because her team fount it, along with her. According to the article, "Biologists are still sorting out this rat." The rat is also very unique. I enjoyed this article because I like learning about animals.

  • sofiap-3-bar
    4/22/2016 - 06:33 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helge Was so happy to see a giant rat because scientists have not seen a rat like this for a while. The rat has, "its unique identifier." (Paragraph2) The rat has. It been names yet, but for now Helge is calling it the Bosavi woolly. I found this article interesting because I didn't know that there was such thing as a three foot rat.

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