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R.O.U.S. Found!

Expedition to New Guinea highlands brings back wild and wooly news on giant rat.
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Big news on the rodent front out of Papua New Guinea — a giant wooly rat, both a brand-new species and likely the biggest rat in existence, has been identified by a team of scientists.

Naturalist Steve Backshall said the most significant find among the (conservatively estimated) 40 new animal species found were 16 new frogs, including a fanged variety. Still, in a conversation with The Guardian's Mike Duran, he found time to enthuse about the rat, which he called "just insanely spectacular."

That spectacle might help it in the cat-versus-rodent arms race: "It's about the size of a cat," he said, adding, "a good-size cat, really, a cat that's been feeding very well."

"It is a true rat, closely related to the rats and mice most of us are familiar with, but so much bigger," Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, was quoted in a release. This specimen noted was 32 inches long and weighed 3.5 pounds.

Backshall was part of team composed of members from The Smithsonian, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research, Oxford and the London Zoo, and accompanied by journalists from the BBC Natural History Unit. Warming our hearts here at Today in Mice, the Beeb's Steve Greenwood was suitably impressed. "I had never seen anything like it in my life — at first glance more like a beaver than a rat," he told the Guardian. "And again, it sat quietly in camp, chewing on a fern and wondering what all the fuss was about as we rushed around him filming and taking photographs."

Today the BBC is debuting the three-part series it put together on the expedition to central New Guinea's Mount Bosavi and its kilometer-deep volcano crater with steep and almost impenetrable walls — essentially an island on land. Backshall said while it would be incorrect to say humans had never been there, the unforgiving terrain meant that indigenous New Guineans had little incentive to visit frequently.

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