The other day we discussed adaptive radiation, the process by which a single ancestor can split into an aardvark, an elephant, a manatee and a mole. But how do species split from one another? Usually by being physically separated for a good amount of time. The obvious illustration would be a species radiating between islands, but “islands” can occur on land, too. Even within islands.
Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they… oh, there’s one.
Meet the Bosavi Woolly Rat, a cuddly cat-sized rodent and the largest rat in the world. What makes it remarkable isn’t just its size, but its location. It was discovered only last year in the Bosavi volcanic crater in Papua New Guinea, along with at least 40 other amazing animal species heretofore unknown to science and native only to this one crater, including a fanged frog, a fish that “grunts,” a marsupial called the Bosavi silky cuscus, a tree kangaroo, a new family of sleestaks, an ogre-faced spider that fishes for its prey, a new species of bat, the world’s smallest parrot, a new bird-of-paradise and caterpillars that collaborate to look like a snake. These creatures had no fear of humans, having probably never seen one before. After all, they’ve been walled inside an extinct volcano for 200,000 years.
This is Bosavi Crater, with sheer cliffs 1,000 yards tall on all sides. Animals from outside the mountain found their way in but somehow failed to find their way out, and over time, they evolved differently from their mainland relatives, changing to fit their very specific needs within their volcanic prison. Bosavi is an Eden lost in time, a complete ecosystem in a teacup. And if you take nothing else from this, take this:
The Earth still has secrets. It is full of folds and creases and shell games and blind spots. There are still places to explore, uncharted places with unseen wildlife. I don’t care how many satellites you girdle the Earth with. If a team of scientists with a helicopter and some machetes can find 40 new species in just 5 weeks on one mountaintop, it proves that all our sophisticated maps still can’t see the new frontiers. The crest of discovery isn’t just beyond the planet, but within. It is inside the wrinkles and folds, between the sheets and under the unkicked stones. In other words, the world may be getting smaller, but it’s also getting deeper.