Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Lost World" of Giant Rats and Mating Birds

First I saw yesterday's Telegraph (UK) article about a new species of giant rat in the province of Papua in New Guinea (not in Papua New Guinea, which is a different country). But that article had a link to an earlier Telegraph article (February 8, 2006) on the discovery of a "lost world," where the giant rats were later found.

The term, "lost world," is a misnomer. It makes it sound as though that area of ground had picked itself up and wandered off for a long time, before searchers found it and returned it to its proper place. It was only lost in the way that a rich uncle you've never heard of--and who has always known exactly where he was all his life--shows up on your doorstep to announce his presence. "Unknown," not "lost," is the better term.

So this previously unknown world was discovered last year, and scientists have been studying it since. Their discoveries are fascinating, although the Telegraph's reporting is a bit confusing. This is from the earlier article:

There was another surprise: a "lost" bird of paradise, Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi), last seen by outsiders in the 19th century and previously known only from the plumage of dead birds collected by native hunters from an unknown location.

Several previous expeditions to the interior had failed to find it.

On the second day of the latest month-long expedition, the team of American, Indonesian and Australian scientists watched amazed as a male Berlepsch's bird of paradise performed a mating dance for a female in the field camp.

OK. I'll give them "lost" for a bird, though I still think it isn't exactly the right word. But I can't quite tell if the male Berlepsch's bird of paradise danced his mating dance for a female bird of paradise or for a female scientist. Reporters really should be more precise than they were in this case. And in the next one:

This was the first time a live male of the species had been observed by western scientists, and proved that the Foja mountains were the birds' true home.

What? Birds can't fly to other places? And how does the observation of a live male by western scientists prove a bird's true home? Are eastern scientists too stupid to be able to prove anything, so it takes a westerner to validate the findings? Or is it the live male that proves it? But that doesn't really make much sense, since I would expect nests to be found in a "true home," and nests usually have the female birds nearby, not the males. Unless maybe birds of paradise have the males tending the nest, but Wikipedia doesn't say anything about that.

It's not that I doubt the Foja mountains are the birds' true home. It's that either the scientists did a poor job of explaining themselves to the reporter, or the reporter got too sloppy with his writing to be clear enough to prevent confusion. In any case, I wish I understood the details of the article, because then I could happily dwell on the joys of birddom and ignore yesterday's article about the giant rats. But no.

"The giant rat is about five times the size of a typical city rat," said Kristofer Helgen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"With no fear of humans, it apparently came into the camp several times during the trip."


There was another discovery, this one of a pygmy possum (no, Chris, they didn't spell it "opossum"), which is WAY cuter that the foul fiends that hang around my neighborhood. Here's his picture. Isn't he cute, in a sad sort of way? (That's his buddy, the Ornate fruit dove, below him.)

"It's comforting to know that there is a place on earth so isolated that it remains the absolute realm of wild nature," said Conservation International's vice-president, Bruce Beehler, who led the expedition.

"We were pleased to see that this little piece of Eden remains as pristine and enchanting as it was when we first visited."

The Foja Wilderness is part of the great Mamberamo Basin, the largest untouched tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region.

The scientists plan another expedition to the area in late 2008 or 2009, when they expect to discover more species of mammals, frogs and butterflies.

They don't mention hoping for more rats.


Delta said...

GROAN...Skye, NOW how am I going to sleep knowing those Sci-Fi movies weren't so Sci-Fi?!?! Oh dear.

SkyePuppy said...


Don't forget the Princess Bride. In the Fire Swamp they had those Rodents of Unsual Size.But Buttercup's dear Westley defeated them, so you really don't need to worry...