Laotian Rock Rat

Laotian rock rat
Fossil range: Recent
Enlarge picture
Laonastes drawing by R. J. Timmins

Laonastes drawing by R. J. Timmins
Conservation status
Not evaluated (IUCN)
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Rodentia
Suborder:Hystricomorpha
Family:Diatomyidae
Genus:Laonastes
Jenkins, Kilpatrick, Robinson & Timmins, 2005
Species:L. aenigmamus
Binomial name
Laonastes aenigmamus
Jenkins, Kilpatrick, Robinson & Timmins, 2005
The Laotian rock rat or kha-nyou (Laonastes aenigmamus), sometimes called the "rat-squirrel", is a rodent species of the Khammouan region of Laos. The species was first described in a 2005 article by Paulina Jenkins and coauthors, who considered the animal to be so distinct from all living rodents that they placed it in a new family, Laonastidae.

In 2006 the classification of the Laotian rock rat was disputed by Mary Dawson and coauthors. The argument was that it belongs to the ancient fossil family Diatomyidae, that was thought to be extinct for 11 million years, or since the late Miocene. It would thereby represent a Lazarus taxon. The animals resemble large dark rats with hairy, thick tails like those on a squirrel. Their skulls are very distinctive and have features that separate them from all other living mammals.

A new family or a Lazarus taxon?

Upon their initial discovery, Jenkins and coauthors (2005) considered the Laotian rock rat to represent a completely new family. The discovery of a new species of an extant mammal genus happens periodically, such as with the leaf muntjac or saola. The discovery of a completely new family is, by comparison, much more unusual. The most recent incident prior to the discovery of the family Laonastidae of the Laotian rock rat by Western science was the discovery of the bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai; family Craseonycteridae) in 1974. The only other examples from the 1900s are represented by species that are only considered distinct families by a few authorities. These discoveries are: the Chinese River Dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer; family Lipotidae) in 1918, the Zagros mouse-like hamster (Calomyscus bailwardi; family Calomyscidae) in 1905, and Goeldi's marmoset (Callimico goeldii; family Callimiconidae) in 1904. Representatives from all the remaining mammal families with living representatives (approximately 30) were discovered prior to 1900.

Jenkins et al. (2004) did not compare the specimens to known rodent fossils. After such a comparison, Dawson et al. (2006) opined that the Laotian rock rat belongs to a previously described family, one which had only been known from fossils, the Diatomyidae. The Diatomyidae are known from a series of fossils from the early Oligocene (~32.5 mya) until the Miocene (~11 mya). The discovery of the Laotian rock rat means that an 11 million year gap exists in the fossil record where no diatomyids have been found. Dawson et al. (2006) described the Diatomyidae as a Lazarus taxon due to this gap. The only other comparable length of time for a mammal Lazarus taxon is the monito del monte, which is part of a family (Microbiotheriidae) also most recently known from Miocene deposits. Mary Dawson described Laonastes as the "coelacanth of rodents".[1]

The analysis of mtDNA 12S rRNA and cytochrome b sequence by Jenkins et al. (2004) allied Laonastes with African hystricognath rodents, namely the blesmols and the Dassie Rat. Support for such a placement was fair, but the exact position could not be resolved. Huchon et al. (2007) conducted a large-scale molecular phylogeny of rodents, including representatives of all major rodent taxonomic groups, based on 5.5 kb of sequence data from four nuclear and two mitochondrial genes, and a short interspersed element insertion analysis including 11 informative loci. Their molecular data place Laonastes robustly as a sister clade of Ctenodactylidae, and support an ancient divergence during the Lutetian (Early/Middle Eocene, ~44 mya). The earlier molecular study was in error due to long branch attraction and inadequate sampling.

Etymology

The genus name for this animal, Laonastes, means "inhabitant of stone" (from Greek λαας = laas = stone, gen: λαος = laos = of stone and Greek ναστης = nastes = inhabitant). This is in reference to its presence around limestone rocks and also to the country where it was recently discovered. The specific epithet aenigmamus means "enigma mouse" (from Greek αινιγμα = ænigma and μυς = mus, "mouse") referring to its unknown position among the rodents (Jenkins et al., 2004).

Discovery

The first specimens were found for sale as meat at a market in Thakhek, Khammouan in 1996. Remains of three additional animals were obtained in 1998 from villagers and in an owl pellet. Interestingly, the researchers also obtained two additional rodent species and one insectivore on that expedition that were unknown to science. Scientists were, however, able to assign these animals to known genera (one rodent to Leopoldamys, and the insectivore to Hylomys) or a known subfamily (as in the case of Saxatilomys in the rodent subfamily Murinae).

Return trips to Laos by the Wildlife Conservation Society researchers have uncovered several other specimens.[2] These new discoveries have prompted the suggestion that the animals may not be as rare as once thought.

On June 13, 2006, David Redfield, a professor emeritus of Florida State University, and Thai wildlife biologist Uthai Treesucon announced that they had captured, photographed and videotaped a live specimen of the species in the village of Doy in Laos.[3]

Description

The animals look generally like rats, with thick, furred tails similar to a squirrel's but limp. The head is large, with round ears and a somewhat bulbous bridge of the nose and very long whiskers. Their fur is dark slate grey, with a blackish tail. The belly is lighter, with a small whitish area in the center. Their eyes are beady and black. They are about 26 cm long with a 14 cm tail and weigh about 400 g. Jenkins et al. (2004) described the jaw as hystricognathous, but Dawson et al. (2006) argued it is sciurognathous. The infraorbital foramen is enlarged, consistent with a hystricomorphous zygomasseteric system. The pterygoid fossa do not connect to the orbit, setting them apart from the hystricognathous rodents.

Natural history

Laotian rock rats are found in regions of karst limestone. They appear to be found only among limestone boulders on hillsides. Villagers in the area are familiar with the animal, calling it kha-nyou, and trapping it for food. The animals are presumed to be nocturnal.

These rock rats appear to be predominantly herbivores, eating leaves, grass and seeds. They may eat insects as well, but probably not in high abundance. Females may give birth to a single young.

Laotian rock rats appear to be quite docile and slow moving over open ground. They walk with feet splayed outward in a gait that has been described as duck-like. Although not ideal for mobility on open surfaces, this appears to be efficient when scrambling up and across large rocks, the sideways angle allowing for greater surface area for feet to find purchase on an angled surface.

See also

References

  • Dawson, M.R.; Marivaux, L.; Li, C.-k.; Beard, K.C. & Métais, G. (2006): Laonastes and the "Lazarus effect" in Recent mammals. Science 311: 1456-1458 doi:10.1126/science.1124187 (HTML abstract)
  • Huchon, Dorothée; Chevret, Pascale; Jordan, Ursula; Kilpatrick, C. William; Ranwez, Vincent; Jenkins, Paulina D.; Brosius, Jürgen & Schmitz, Jürgen (2007): Multiple molecular evidences for a living mammalian fossil. PNAS 104(18): 7495-7499. doi:10.1073/pnas.0701289104 (HTML abstract)
  • Jenkins, Paulina D.; Kilpatrick, C. William; Robinson, Mark F. & Timmins, Robert J. (2004): Morphological and molecular investigations of a new family, genus and species of rodent (Mammalia: Rodentia: Hystricognatha) from Lao PDR. Systematics and Biodiversity 2(4): 419-454. doi:10.1017/S1477200004001549 (HTML abstract). Erratum: Systematics and Biodiversity 3(3):343. doi:10.1017/S1477200005001775
  • Wilson, D. E. & Reeder, D. M. (1993): Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press.

Footnotes

1. ^ (MSNBC)
2. ^ "New pictures of 'living fossil'", BBC, 2006-04-06. Retrieved on 2006-05-05.BBC&rft.date=2006-04-06"> 
3. ^ ""Living Fossil" captured live on video", Florida State University, 2006-06-13. Retrieved on 2006-06-13. 

External links

News articles

conservation status of a species is an indicator of the likelihood of that species continuing to survive either in the present day or the future. Many factors are taken into account when assessing the conservation status of a species: not simply the number remaining, but the
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IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List), created in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species.
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Scientific classification or biological classification is a method by which biologists group and categorize species of organisms. Scientific classification also can be called scientific taxonomy, but should be distinguished from folk taxonomy, which lacks scientific basis.
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Chordata
Bateson, 1885

Typical Classes

See below

Chordates (phylum Chordata) are a group of animals that includes the vertebrates, together with several closely related invertebrates.
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Mammalia
Linnaeus, 1758

Subclasses & Infraclasses
  • Subclass †Allotheria*
  • Subclass Prototheria
  • Subclass Theria

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Rodentia
Bowdich, 1821

Suborders

Sciuromorpha
Castorimorpha
Myomorpha
Anomaluromorpha
Hystricomorpha
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents
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Hystricomorpha
Brandt, 1855

Families

Ctenodactylidae
†Tammquammyidae
Diatomyidae
†Yuomyidae
†Chapattimyidae
†Tsaganomyidae
†"Baluchimyinae"
Hystricidae
†Myophiomyidae
†Diamantomyidae
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Diatomyidae
Mein & Ginsburg, 1997

Genera

Laonastes
†Diatomys
†Fallomus
†Willmus

Diatomyidae is a family of hystricomorphous, sciurognathous rodents found in Asia.
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binomial nomenclature is the formal system of naming species. The system is also called binominal nomenclature (particularly in zoological circles), binary nomenclature (particularly in botanical circles), or the binomial classification system.
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Rodentia
Bowdich, 1821

Suborders

Sciuromorpha
Castorimorpha
Myomorpha
Anomaluromorpha
Hystricomorpha
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents
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species is one of the basic units of biological classification. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.
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Khammouan (Lao ຄໍາມ່ວນ) is a province of Laos, located in the south of the country. To the north it is bounded by Bolikhamxai; to the south, by Savannakhet. To the west is Thailand; to the east, Vietnam.
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family (Latin: familia, plural familiae) is a rank, or a taxon in that rank. Exact details of formal nomenclature depend on the Nomenclature Code which applies.
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Diatomyidae
Mein & Ginsburg, 1997

Genera

Laonastes
†Diatomys
†Fallomus
†Willmus

Diatomyidae is a family of hystricomorphous, sciurognathous rodents found in Asia.
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Mary Dawson is the curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pennsylvania and the chairperson of the Division of Earth Sciences. She has held the curator position since 1972.

Dr. Dawson was raised in Michigan and received her Ph.D.
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Diatomyidae
Mein & Ginsburg, 1997

Genera

Laonastes
†Diatomys
†Fallomus
†Willmus

Diatomyidae is a family of hystricomorphous, sciurognathous rodents found in Asia.
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extinction is the cessation of existence of a species or group of taxa, reducing biodiversity. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of that species (although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point).
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The Miocene Epoch is a period of time that extends from about 23.03 to 5.332 million years before the present. As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the start and end are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are uncertain.
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Lazarus taxon (plural taxa) is a taxon that disappears from one or more periods of the fossil record, only to appear again later. The term refers to the New Testament story of Lazarus, in which it is claimed that Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead.
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wild rats. For pet rats, see Fancy rat. For other uses, see Rat (disambiguation).

Rats
Fossil range: Early Pleistocene – Recent

Black Rat (Rattus rattus)


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The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals and birds.
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Sciuridae

Genera
Many, see the article Sciuridae.

A squirrel is a small or medium-sized rodent of the family Sciuridae. In the English-speaking world, it commonly refers to members of this family's genera Sciurus and Tamiasciurus
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skull is a bony structure found in many animals which serves as the general framework for the head. The skull supports the structures of the face and protects the head against injury.

The skull can be subdivided into two parts: the cranium and the mandible.
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muntiacinae

Genus: Muntiacus

Species: M. putaoensis

Binomial name
Muntiacus putaoensis
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Species: P. nghetinhensis

Binomial name
Pseudoryx nghetinhensis
Dung, Giao, Chinh, Tuoc, Arctander, MacKinnon, 1993

The
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Craseonycteridae

Genus: Craseonycteris

Species: C. thonglongyai

Binomial name
Craseonycteris thonglongyai
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Craseonycteridae

Genus: Craseonycteris

Species: C. thonglongyai

Binomial name
Craseonycteris thonglongyai
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