A Giant Rat That Can Break Open Coconuts Was Just Photographed For The First Time On The Solomon Islands

Published November 27, 2023

The local community of the Solomon Islands had been aware of the Vangunu giant rat for years, but efforts to photograph it remained unsuccessful until now.

Giant Rats Breaking Coconuts

Lavery et al., Ecology and Evolution 2023The Vangunu giant rat (Uromys vika), the first new species of rodent from the Solomon Islands in over 80 years.

For the first time, researchers have photographed the rare and elusive Vangunu giant rat, a critically endangered species first described in 2017.

The findings, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, detail how researchers from the University of Melbourne, Solomon Islands National University, and Zaira Village, Vangunu set up a series of camera traps to finally capture images of this giant rodent.

The Vangunu giant rat is at least twice the size of a common rat and is known to live within the trees of Vangunu in the Solomon Islands. This rodent is also notable for its ability to chew through coconuts with its teeth. That said, there is still much about this species that remains unknown.

“Capturing images of the Vangunu giant rat for the first time is extremely positive news for this poorly known species,” said study lead author Tyrone Lavery, of the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences, in a statement. “This comes at a critical juncture for the future of Vangunu’s last forests — which the community of Zaira have been fighting to protect from logging for 16 years.”

Researchers have labeled the Vangunu giant rat critically endangered in direct response to the logging that threatens the island’s forests, as the known population of Uromys vika is incredibly small and relegated solely to Vangunu’s forests. Ironically, though, it was the logging industry that ultimately made the discovery possible in the first place.

“The felling of a large habitat tree… fatally injured one of the rodents that must have been sheltering somewhere in its canopy or hollows,” researchers wrote in the study. “Partial remains accessioned to the collections of the Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Australia, were sufficient for comparisons with described rodents of northern Melanesia, and it was subsequently described as a new species Uromys vika.

The discovery marked the first new rodent species described in the Solomon Islands in 80 years — and certainly piqued scientific interest, prompting Lavery and fellow researcher Atuna Judge to further investigate this tree-bound rat population.

What they found is that these rodents likely only inhabited the biggest remaining tract of Vangunu’s primary forests, known as the Zaira Community Resource Management Area, or more simply, Zaira.

Vangunu Giant Rat

Lavery et al., Ecology and Evolution 2023The Vangunu giant rat is endemic to Vangunu, and habitat loss could lead to the species’ extinction.

“The images show the Vangunu giant rat lives in Zaira’s primary forests, and these lands (particularly the Dokoso tribal area) represent the last remaining habitat for the species,” Lavery said. “Logging consent has been granted at Zaira, and if it proceeds it will undoubtably lead to extinction of the Vangunu giant rat.”

Although the Vangunu giant rat was not scientifically described until 2017, Lavery noted that Vangunu’s people had long been aware of the species living among their treetops. This information proved to be crucial for the researchers’ success in capturing a photograph of the rat.

According to senior author Kevin Sese, of the Solomon Islands National University, the Vangunu people’s knowledge and awareness of U. vika served as a guide for the field work that ultimately led the researchers to be able to capture 95 images of these rare rats. In total, they identified four individuals of the species living at Zaira.

“The result that our camera traps recorded up to four individuals also is encouraging,” the authors wrote. “Beyond confirming presence of U. vika, we are unable to offer major advances in the knowledge of the rodent’s ecology or conservation needs, and our data are insufficient to identify seasonal patterns in behaviour or detectability.”

There is still much for researchers to learn about the Vangunu giant rat, but capturing photographs of the species — and therefore, confirming that a small population still inhabits the forested region — is a major first step in ensuring it survives.

“For decades anthropologists and mammalogists alike were aware of this knowledge, but periodic efforts to scientifically identify and document this species were fruitless,” Lavery said.

“We hope that these images of U. vika will support efforts to prevent the extinction of this threatened species, and help improve its conservation status.”


After reading about the discovery of the Vangunu giant rat, read about the new species of electric blue tarantula discovered earlier this year. Then, learn about the newly discovered box jellyfish with 24 eyes.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.