Tag Archives: invasive species

Giant Rats: From Nasty Vermin to Super Heros

 

Giant RatScary Rats:  Giant rats are no longer just figments of the imagination.  Now, it seems, these once mythical rodents are in fact real, and they’re absolutely, ginormous. That’s really, really big!

A rat, which was called “Vika” by locals on Vangunu (one of the many islands making up the group known as the Solomon Islands) solomon-islandswas for decades the stuff of legend. It wasn’t until a logging company (in 2015) accidentally flushed one from hiding, while clearing trees, that the Vika stories changed from fiction to fact. Then in 2017, researchers were able to hunt one of the rats down and through DNA testing found that this huge rodent, was a brand new species.

Now known as Uromys vika  , this rat has orangish brown fur, measures a foot anvika-ratd a half long and weighs more than 2 pounds. To put that in perspective, the average rat in the US., tops out at about 8 ounces with a body 7-11 inches long and tail another 7-9 inches. This new rodent, thought to be strictly herbivorous (plant eating), feasts mainly on nuts whose shells are thicker than that of a coconut. The animal’s massive teeth easily gnaw through the outer layer of the nut to make a meal of its tasty insides.

Another Giant Rat species, the Bosavi woolly rat is one of

From Wikipedia

the largest rats, according to the Smithsonian Institution. A Smithsonian biologist discovered this new species of giant rat in 2009 in the crater of Mount Bosavi, an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea. It weighed close to 3.5 lbs. and measured 32 inches long, including the tail. This gigantic rat has a thick silver-gray coat and was not unafraid of humans. According to researchers, this species may only live inside this volcano.

The African or Gambian pouched rat,  Cricetomys gambianus, (is also on the exremely large side. It weighs between 2 to 3 pounds and grows to around 3 feet long (including its’ tail).  In its native Africa, the pouchedgambian-rat-standing rat lives in colonies of up to twenty, usually in forests and scrub areas, but also very often around termite mounds. It is omnivorous, preferring palm fruits and palm kernels while also feeding on vegetables, insects, crabs, and snails.  It is not a true rat but is part of an African branch omuroid rodents. It derives its name from the pouches inside its mouth (in the cheeks) that are used to store extra food.

For all it’s scary and perceived nastiness this rat rates right up there master-splinter-action-figurewith the famous “Master Splinter” of Ninja Turtle fame for his save the world attitude.  Known universally as the Hero Rat” for its work as a trained landmine detector and in the medical field for its ablity to detect, sniff out tuberculeosis ,. A single Hero rat can clear 200 square feet of landmine infested g round in an hour (done manually, the same area would take 50 hours to clear). A TB-detection rat can evaluate 50 samples in eight minutes (almost a day’s work for a lab technician).

Since 2000, these rats have cleared mine fields in Tanzania, and detected 6,693 land mines, 26,934 small arms and ammunitions, and 1,087 bombs across hundreds of miles in Mozambique. They’re also hard at work in Thailand, Angola, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Since 2002, trained tuberculosis-detecting rats have bFrom Wikimedia Commonseen used in 19 TB clinics in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam. They’ve successfully screened 226,931 samples and identified 5,594 TB patients. Get more info on these amazing Heros and the innovative research company (Ngo Apopo) that trains and provides their services at https://www.apopo.org/en/ You can even adopt a rat!

Being intelligent, playful and  very affectionate, they are sometimes kept as exotic pets.  Unfortunately, when a group of Gambian pouched rats escaped frorat-as-pet-1914404_960_720m a breeder in Florida and colonized an island called Grassy Key, they  become an invasive species. In addition, in 2003 they played a role in an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States. They are now a restricted animal and can only be imported for scientific research, exhibition, or educational purposes with a valid permit issued by the CDC.

Featured Picture: Giant Gambian Pouched Rat finds a landmine (photo by Xavier Rossi).

Other pictures: From Wikimedia Commons

 

Asian Needle Ants vs Argentine Ants: GAME ON!

As an invasive species, Argentine ants have been extremely successful invaders. These aggressive, territorial ants, which can live in super-colonies comprised of thousands of queens and millions of workers, easilyargentine_ant displaced native species as they spread across the United States. No other ant species has successfully stood up to these super troopers — until now.

 

So, what gives Asian needle ants (Brachyponera chinensis or Pachycondyla chinensis) an edge over the competition? Researchers have come to the conclusion that the Asian needle ant’s ability to tolerate cooler temperatures is a major factor in their success. In cooler months, both species become dormant and their basic activities slow way down. This temporarily stops reproduction, diminishing populations. Asian needle ants wake up and become

active much earlier inthe year than Argentine ants, getting a jumpstart on their competitors. They start to reproduce, forage for food, and build new colonies in Argentine ant territory as early as March, while the Argentine ants take another couple of months to rise and shine and get going. Finding their old territories already occupied, the Argentine ants typically move on to other areas.

In forests, Asian needle ants nest in rotting logs, under leaves and mulch, and under rocks. In human environments, they can nest anywhere from potted plants to under door mats, in landscaping materials, and even under dog bowls.

While they love to eat termites, Asian needle ants will consume just about anything it can get its’ mandibles around, from dead insects to other ants to human garbage.  Its’ aggressiveness, habitat versatility and eating habits could mean a great change to our eco-systems.  When these guys move in they eat other ants, devour their food sources, and take up their nesting spaces, forcing native ant species, such as Wood ants, Acrobat ants and Thief ants, to disappear. This is a problem because, these native species play important roles in the ecosystem. Many native ants are gardeners—they till the soil and plant seeds, and the loss of these ant species will impact the health of our forests, and in the long-run, destroy them.

acrobat-ant-crematogaster-scutellaris
Acrobat Ant

 

Redwood Ant
Redwood Ant

 

 

 

 

Thief Ant
Thief Ant

Not only is this ant of concern to its’ adopted habitats but it is also a health concern as it’s venomous sting causes burning and site redness (with dull nerve pain lasting up to 2 weeks) and in some extreme cases, allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).  Scientists have deduced that more people are allergic to Asian ant stings than to Honeybee stings.

Although not yet arriving in California, in great numbers, they are heading our way.  They have already been stopped 6 times at our boarders and appear to be hitch-hiking on imported food products, landscaping and plant materials and grandma’s potted plant.

What does an Asian ant look like?  It is shiny, black with lighter orange legs, has a stinger and is only about 0.2 inches long. The Argentine ant, in comparison, ranges in color from light to dark brown, doesn’t have a stinger (but they do bite) and are about 0.08 inches in length,  much smaller than the Asian needle ant.

For more info on common ants in California, follow this link: https://www.corkyspest.com/ant-id.html