Living fossil rat caught on tape
Professor and biologist bring back photos, video of
Laotian rock rat
The Associated Press
Treesucon / Florida State U. via AP
or Laotian rock rat, is seen in this picture taken
during an expedition to Laos in May. The first live
specimen of the species was photographed in Doy, a
small village in central Laos, during an expedition
by Florida State University professor David Redfield
and Thai biologist Uthai Treesucon.
Fla. - The first pictures showing a live specimen of a
rodent species once thought to have been extinct for 11
million years have been taken by a retired Florida State
University professor and a Thai wildlife biologist.
They took video and still photographs of the "living
fossil," which looks like a small squirrel or tree shrew, in
May during an expedition to central Laos near the Thai
Known as Diatomyidae, scientists have nicknamed it the
Laotian rock rat. The creature is not really a rat but a
member of a rodent family once known only from fossils.
The pictures show a docile, squirrel-sized animal with dark
dense fur and a long tail but not as bushy as a squirrel's.
It also shows that the creature waddles like a duck with its
hind feet splayed out at an angle ideal for climbing
"I hope these pictures will help in some way to prevent the
loss of this marvelous animal," said David Redfield, a
science education professor emeritus.
Rat returned to rocky home
He and Uthai Treesucon, a bird-watching colleague,
befriended hunters who captured a live rock rat after four
failed attempts. They returned the animal, which the locals
call kha-nyou, to its rocky home after photographing it.
The long-whiskered rodent was branded as a new species last
year when biologists first examined dead specimens they
found being sold at meat markets. But they had never seen a
live animal until Redfield and Treesucon photographed it.
"These images are extremely important scientifically,
showing as they do an animal (with) such markedly
distinctive anatomical and functional attributes," said Mary
Dawson, curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the
Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
Dawson and colleagues in France and China first reported the
rock rat's true identity in the March 10 edition of the
journal Science after they compared the bones of present-day
specimens with fossils found in Asia.