WASHINGTON – It has the face of a rat and the tail of a skinny squirrel – and scientists say this creature discovered living in central Laos is pretty special: It’s a species believed to have been extinct for 11 million years.
The long-whiskered rodent made international headlines last spring when biologists declared they’d discovered a brand new species, nicknamed the Laotian rock rat.
It turns out the little guy isn’t new after all, but a rare kind of survivor: a member of a family until now known only from fossils.
Nor is it a rat. This species, called Diatomyidae, looks more like small squirrels or tree shrews, said paleontologist Mary Dawson of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Dawson, with colleagues in France and China, report the creature’s new identity in today’s edition of the journal Science.
The resemblance is “absolutely striking,” Dawson said.
As soon as her team spotted reports about the rodent’s discovery, “we thought, ‘My goodness, this is not a new family. We’ve known it from the fossil record.’ “