An international team of scientists has discovered a new species of wild rodent in a remote mountainous area of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. The creature had eluded discovery for many years by mainly foraging for food among the roots of trees.
Known as Gracilimus radix, this slender rat inhabited the thick forests at the slopes of Mount Gandang Dewata on Sulawesi Island. The region has long been considered a hotbed for various creatures.
According to the researchers, the slender rat belonged to a new genus of its own since it had such a vastly different anatomy compared to other wild rodents. This placed the animal on a separate step in the taxonomic rankings just above a new species.
"We discovered the new genus and species [while] doing mammal surveys in 2011 and 2012 on Mt Gandang Dewata," Kevin Rowe, a biologist from Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, said.
"This marks the third new genus and fourth new species discovered there in the last four years."
Rowe added that aside from the five rodents they came across with, there are still a number of other rat species waiting to be discovered in the wilderness of Sulawesi Island.
He explained that identifying these creatures will not only provide researchers with new insight regarding the origin and evolution of native rodents in Australia, but it will also allow them to understand how animals are able to evolve in response to challenges presented to them by Nature.
After conducting several genetic analyses, the research team found that the Gracilimus radix is closely related to the Sulawesi water rat (Waiomys mamasae), which was first discovered in 2014. The slender rat and the water rat belong to the same rodent group that can only be found on Sulawesi Island.
Unlike most other wild rodents that are mostly carnivorous, the slender rat was revealed to be omnivorous.
Rowe pointed out that despite being close relatives, the Gracilimus radix and the Waiomys mamasae are very much different from one another. The slender rat evolved to become more adept at living on land, while the Sulawesi water rat developed skills more suited for swimming and living in the water.
The findings of the international study are featured in the Journal of Mammalogy.