Shrew like rat species lives off earthworms

August 22nd, 2012 - 3:34 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 22 (IANS) A new shrew like rat species, unearthed in a remote rainforest, cannot chew or gnaw but lives exclusively on earthworms.

The species Paucidentomys vermidax, found in the remote rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, has fang-like upper incisors which are useless for gnawing and no back teeth. It feeds on earthworms which it sucks out of the ground at the foot of the jungle with its long snout.

It shares something in common with insectivorous shrew rats from the Philippines but has completely dispensed with chewing molars, the journal Biology Letters reported.

Kevin Rowe, from Museum Victoria in Australia, member of the discovery team, said: “There are more than 2,200 rodent species in the world and until this discovery all had molars in the back of their mouth and incisors at the front.”

“This is an example of how species, when faced with a new ecological opportunity, in this case an abundance of earthworms, can evolve the loss of traits that were wildly successful in previous circumstances,” added Rowe, according to the Daily Mail.

Co-author Anang Achmadi, from Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense in Indonesia, said: “The specialised incisors of rodents give them the distinct ability to gnaw - a defining characteristic of rodents worldwide.”

“In having lost all teeth except a pair of unusually shaped incisors that are incapable of gnawing, this new rat is unique among rodents,” said Achmadi.

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