Giant rats, the size of small dogs, roamed Timor - and people used to eat them

Dr Julien Louys

Fossils of seven giant rat species, with the largest up to 10 times the size of modern rats, have been found by Australians scientists on East Timor.

They are the largest known rats to exist, according to Julien Louys of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.

“They are what you would call mega-fauna,” he says. “The biggest one is about 5 kg, the size of a small dog. Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo.”

Researchers are now trying to work out what caused the rats to die out. The earliest records of humans on East Timor date to 46,000 years ago and they lived with the rats for thousands of years.

“We know they’re eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks,” Dr Louys says.

“The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale.”

Dr Louys presented his findings at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology in Texas.

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