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? 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 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. 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 (22)
  • bmorg-wim
    4/22/2016 - 12:39 p.m.

    I would like to know some of the scientific names of these animals as soon as possible. I feel like Bosavi wooly rat is a good name though.

  • cwebs-wim
    4/22/2016 - 12:48 p.m.

    The rat was found in Papua in a remote volcano. The rat doesn't have a scientific name yet though. The rat belongs to black rats and Norway rats.I think that this discovery is really cool. It is also different to find it by a volcano.

  • jordanr-Orv
    4/22/2016 - 12:56 p.m.

    Its funny there are so many types of animals we have no idea about how many variants of an animal that we don't know about.

  • nicholasl-2-bar
    4/24/2016 - 12:49 p.m.

    I think Dr. Kristopher was happy to see a giant rat because rats aren't usually that big. Also, it is very uncommon to find a new species of mammal. In the article it says that he's discovered about 100 species. He is happy because giant rats aren't that easy to find. I liked this article because it talked about a giant rat. I was surprised that they discovered a new species.

  • lyler-ver
    4/25/2016 - 01:40 p.m.

    He was happy to see a giant rat because that giant rat was a new species. Also maybe because it uncommon to see a giant rat.

  • caitlynk-2-bar
    4/25/2016 - 02:10 p.m.

    Dr. Kristopher Helgen was happy to see the giant rat because he "has discovered about 100 new species. He is always on the lookout for more." Helgen will always be on the look out for more species, even if the are related to a gross street rat, that roams around New York City or Norway. This article was interesting because I think that the woolly rat is cute, but the scientists believe is looks and has the same features of a rat. This article surprised me because it is crazy that one man has discovered of one hundred new species.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    4/25/2016 - 09:39 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helgen was very exited to find the new giant rat species for many reasons. He was able to get a little bit more famous than he already was. Due to the fact that he got to have an interview or two. Also, Dr. Helgen obviously likes science and it is always fun to discover something new in your level of interest. There are probably some other scientists who were excited about the discovery also.

  • karliw-1-bar
    4/25/2016 - 10:16 p.m.

    Dr. Helgen was excited to find the newly discovered Bosavi wolly rat because it has recently been discovered. When a scientist in the same field as Dr. Helgen has discovered a new species, especially a new mammal species, there are so many things to be determined. Things like the scientific name what species it is still a mystery to them. But, scientists 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." Helgen has discovered more than 100 species and he can't wait to estblish this rodent's history to the world.

  • dianner-2-bar
    4/27/2016 - 06:45 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helgen happy to see a giant rat because it was a new type of specie. I liked this article but pretty disturbed because there a a big rat and it is a new specie. This article was surprising because to think about that there is a rat that big roaming around the city.

  • zeusr-3-bar
    4/27/2016 - 07:29 p.m.

    Dr. Kristofer Helgen was happy to see a giant rat because there species was very uncommon.Dr. Kristofer Helgen was exited since he found/discovered a new species of rats. It's not every day you find a new species of rat.

    My opinion on this topic is that we found a new species of rat that we never found before.

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