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'Fossil' Rock Rat Pictured Alive

Essay by 24  •  March 21, 2011  •  395 Words (2 Pages)  •  1,141 Views

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Images have been obtained of a live Laotian rock rat, the animal science now believes to be the sole survivor of an ancient group of rodents.

The kha-nyou, as it is known locally, was trapped by an expedition in May.

The pictures show a friendly, furry creature about the size of a squirrel that waddles a bit like a duck.

Experts say the kha-nyou can trace its line to a rodent family that initial studies had suggested became extinct more than 11 million years ago.

The expedition to central Laos was led by a retired Florida State University scientist, David Redfield.

"We were extremely fortunate in so many ways to be able to do this," he said of the discovery. "It's easily one of the most gratifying experiences of my life, and I hope these pictures will help in some way to prevent the loss of this marvellous animal."

The kha-nyou was picked up near the village of Doy, close to the Thai border. It was released back into the wild after being photographed and videoed.

Chinese clue

Now classified as Laonastes aenigmamus, the animal first caught the eye of international researchers last year in a hunters' market - dead specimens were on sale.

Based on differences in the skull, teeth, bones and other body features together with DNA analysis, scientists initially put the creature in an entirely new rodent family more closely related to rodents in Africa and South America than in Asia.

Laotian rock rats on a table (Peter Clyne)

Dead specimens were first seen in a hunters' market

But then a particularly impressive fossil of a long-extinct

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