Friday, March 10, 2006

Science finds the Lazarus rat

New rodent is 'living fossil'
Helen Briggs
BBC News Science

A squirrel-like rodent discovered in Laos is the sole survivor of a group that otherwise died out 11 million years ago, according to fossil data. The animal made headlines in 2005 when it was hailed as the only new family of living mammals to be found in 30 years. But scientists now believe it is a "living fossil", the relic of a group of prehistoric rodents once widespread in South East Asia and Japan. Writing in Science magazine, they say efforts must be made to conserve it. The rodent, Laonastes aenigmamus, was found by scientists at a hunter's market in Laos in early 2005.

Robert Timmins, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, saw it on sale next to some vegetables. "I knew immediately it was something I had never seen before," he said at the time. While previously unknown to the worldwide scientific community, it is familiar enough to local people to have a name, the kha-nyou.The creature has dark-grey fur and is about the size of a red squirrel. It has short legs, a hairy tail and a long snout....

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Image © 2006 Peter Clyne

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