Tag Archives: Pacific rat

What’s been going on? Part 2: Flores, homeland of the Pacific rat

By Vicki Thomson

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Travelling by traditional Polynesian canoe. Here, Hawaiian priests travel to meet Captain Cook. Credit: J. Webber

Knowing the history of the animals and plants we use regularly can shed light onto the history of human populations. Early cultures took pigs, dogs, rats, chickens, sweet potatoes, and bottle gourds as food items on their canoe voyages out into the Pacific – we assume they were uncertain of the food resources that would be available during or at their journey’s end. What the early Polynesians did not anticipate though was the destruction of native flora and fauna that would result from the introduction of some of these species, in particular, the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans or kiore in New Zealand). Today, the Pacific rat is currently found on almost all the Pacific islands. In New Zealand, a country with no native land mammals, many birds were driven extinct after the arrival of the Pacific rat with the Maori, in the late 13th century. These rats are also thought to have caused the complete deforestation of palm trees on Easter Island. As this rat cannot swim over long distances, we know the arrival of the Pacific rat on an island can be tied back to the appearance of humans, making this rat especially useful for tracking Polynesian migration and trade trips. Why were these people carrying rats with them? Continue reading