PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Hairy-Tailed Rat Is New Species

Philippines rat photo
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February 18, 2009—Say howdy to the Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat (above), the newest member of our mammalian family.

The yellow-brown rodent was discovered in 2006 in pygmy forests of Mount Hamiguitan on the Philippines' Mindanao island, but was only recently identified as a new species. The mammal was so distinctive that DNA testing was not needed to determine it as a new species.

The rat, which scurries through a tiny habitat of less than 3.9 square miles (10 square kilometers), is the only mammal that's known to exist solely on the island.

(See a giant rat picture and other photos of new species from Indonesia.)

More new species will likely be found due to the unusual geology of the region, Lawrence Heaney, curator of mammals at Chicago's Field Museum, said in a statement. The museum co-led the 2006 expedition with the Philippine government.

That's because the island is made of four distinct areas with different geological origins, Heaney told National Geographic News in an email. Many species evolved separately on the islands.

Mindanao is a hot spot for mining and logging, the The Philippine Star newspaper reported. The government, however, has rallied for the mountain—which includes centuries-old trees—to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The new find "strongly reinforces the evidence that the Philippines has one of the greatest concentrations of unique mammals of any country in the world," Heaney said.

"That makes it a great natural laboratory for studying evolution—but also points out the need for successful conservation."

—Christine Dell'Amore

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