FOSSILS OF “GIANT CLOUD RATS” DISCOVERED IN PHILIPPINE CAVES

Field Museum

April 22, 2021

Fluffy rodents twice the size of a gray squirrel survived for tens of thousands of years, and then abruptly disappeared a few thousand years ago—perhaps driven to extinction by humans

Rats, by and large, aren’t terribly popular animals. But while you don’t want an infestation of common black rats living in your house, their distant cousins in the Philippines are downright cuddly. These “giant cloud rats” live in the treetops of misty mountain forests, and they fill an ecological role occupied by squirrels in the US. And, it turns out, we have new evidence that they’ve been living in the Philippines for a long time—scientists have discovered the fossils of three new species of giant cloud rats that lived alongside ancient humans.

“Our previous studies have demonstrated that the Philippines has the greatest concentration of unique species of mammals of any country, most of which are small animals, less than half a pound, that live in the tropical forest,” Larry Heaney, the Neguanee Curator of Mammals at Chicago’s Field Museum and an author of a study in the Journal of Mammalogy describing the new species. “These recently extinct fossil species not only show that biodiversity was even greater in the very recent past, but that the two that became extinct just a few thousand years ago were giants among rodents, both weighing more than two pounds. Their abrupt disappearance just a few thousand years ago leaves us to wonder if they were big enough that it might have been worthwhile to hunt and eat them.”

“We have had evidence of extinct large mammals on the Philippine island of Luzon for a long time, but there has been virtually no information about fossils of smaller-sized mammals.  The reason is probably that research had focused on open-air sites where the large fossil mammal faunas were known to have been preserved, rather than the careful sieving of cave deposits that preserve a broader size-range of vertebrates including the teeth and bones of rodents,” says Janine Ochoa, an Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of the Philippines – Diliman and the study’s lead author.

At the outset of the study, Ochoa was examining the fossil assemblages from caves in the Callao limestone formation, where a couple of years ago, scientists discovered the remains of an ancient species of humans, Homo luzonensis. “We were looking at the fossil assemblages associated with that hominin, and we found teeth and fragments of bone that ended up belonging to these new species of cloud rats,” says Ochoa.

The fossil fragments discovered by the excavation team  in Callao Cave aren’t the only traces of the cloud rats, though—they were able to add to them some other fossils in the collections of the National Museum of the Philippines. “Some of these fossils were actually excavated decades ago, in the 1970s and 1980s, and they were in the museum, waiting for someone to have time to do a detailed study. When we began to analyze the fossil material, we were expecting fossil records for known living species. To our surprise, we found that we were dealing with not just one but three buot, or giant cloud rat species that were previously unknown,” said Marian Reyes, a zooarcheologist at the National Museum of the Philippines, one of the study’s authors.

The researchers didn’t have a ton of material to work with, though—just fifty or so fragments. “Normally, when we’re looking at fossil assemblages, we’re dealing with thousands and thousands of fragments before you find something rare and really nice,” says Ochoa. “It’s crazy that in these fifty fragments, we found three new species that haven’t been recorded before.”

The fragments that the researchers found were mostly teeth, which are covered in a hard enamel substance that makes them hardier than bone. From just a few dozen teeth and bits of bone, though, the researchers were able to put together a picture of what these animals were like in life, thanks to, in Heaney’s words, “days and days and days staring through a microscope”

By comparing the fossils to the 18 living species of giant cloud rats, the researchers have a decent idea of what these three new fossil species would have looked like.

“The bigger ones would have looked almost like a woodchuck with a squirrel tail,” says Heaney. “Cloud rats eat plants, and they’ve got great big pot bellies that allow them to ferment the plants that they eat, kind of like cows. They have big fluffy or furry tails. They’re really quite cute.”

The newly recorded fossil species came from Callao Cave, where Homo luzonensis was discovered in 2019, and several adjacent smaller caves in Penablanca, Cagayan Province. Some specimens of all three of the new fossil rodents occurred in the same deep layer in the cave where Homo luzonensis was found, which has been dated at about 67,000 years ago.  One of the new fossil rodents is known from only two specimens from that ancient layer, but the other two are represented by specimens from that early date all the way up to about 2000 years ago or later, which means that they were resilient and persistent for at least 60,000 years. “Our records demonstrate that these giant rodents were able to survive the profound climatic changes from the Ice Age to current humid tropics that have impacted the earth over tens of millennia. The question is what might have caused their final extinction?” adds Philip Piper, a coauthor based at the Australian National University.

Two of these giant rodents apparently disappeared about two thousand years ago, or soon after.  “That seems significant, because that is roughly the same time that pottery and Neolithic stone tools first appear in the archeological record, and when dogs, domestic pigs, and probably monkeys were introduced to the Philippines, probably from Borneo.  While we can’t say for certain based on our current information, this implies that humans likely played some role in their extinction,” says Armand Mijares, Professor in the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines –  Diliman, who headed the excavations of Callao Cave.

“Our discoveries suggest that future studies that look specifically for fossils of small mammals may be very productive, and may tell us a great deal about how environmental changes and human activities have impacted the really exceptionally distinctive biodiversity of the Philippines,” according to Ochoa.

And such studies may also tell us a lot specifically about the impact of human activities, perhaps specifically including over-hunting, on biodiversity, notes Heaney.  “This is something we need to understand if we are going to be effective in preventing extinction in the future.”

Field Museum

SCENIC OVERLOOK AT GREENE VALLEY OPENS FOR SEASON MAY 1

Forest Preserve District of DuPage

Great views at highest public ground in DuPage County

(April 20, 2021) — DuPage Forest Preserve District’s scenic overlook at Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville opens on weekends starting May 1, providing a bird’s-eye view of DuPage County and the Chicago skyline from 190 feet above the ground.

The overlook will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Oct. 31, weather permitting, although Illinois Environmental Protection Agency activities may cause it to close without notice. The access drive is off Greene Road south of 79th Street. Visitors can park at the summit, and are encouraged to bring binoculars or spotting scopes for views of far-off vistas and migrating birds. District staff will be on hand to answer questions.

Visitors must wear facemasks that cover the nose and mouth and must practice safe social distancing, staying at least 6 feet away from other people.

Visitors with valid District permits can launch nonpowered model gliders and sailplanes from a designated area of the overlook; permits are available online 24/7 or through Visitor Services at 630-933-7248 weekdays 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more down-to-earth exploration, hikers and bikers can use the 1.9-mile Hawk Trail, which circles the hill’s base and is open only during the scenic overlook operating hours.

The District periodically opens the scenic overlook for special viewings of the sunrise, sunset, or a lunar eclipse. Follow @dupageforest on Facebook for notices about these occasions.

The overlook rests on top of a closed landfill, which operated from 1974 to 1996. A gas-to-energy plant converts methane from the landfill into energy, which powers thousands of area homes. Revenue from the landfill’s former disposal operations and the gas-to-energy plants — not tax dollars — funded construction of the recreational improvements and continue to fund maintenance of the overlook.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has been connecting people to nature for more than 100 years. More than 6.2 million people visit its 60 forest preserves, 166 miles of trails, six education centers and scores of programs each year. For information, call 630-933-7200 or visit dupageforest.org, where you can also link to the District’s e-newsletter, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Forest Preserve District of DuPage

METRA EXTENDS $10 ALL-DAY PASS THROUGH JUNE

(April 15, 2021) –

Metra has extended the availability its flexible and affordable $10 All-Day Pass  through June 30, 2021.

The All-Day Pass is good for unlimited rides on any and all Metra lines all day until 3 a.m. the next morning. For most trips, the All-Day Pass costs less than two one-way fares. The pass was introduced on June 1, 2020 and is currently used by about a third of Metra riders.

For all fare purchases, Metra riders are strongly encouraged to use the Ventra app. Using the app and the $10 All-Day Pass doesn’t simply save money – it provides an added measure of safety by reducing close interaction between Metra customers and crew members, allowing them to “Touch Less, Pay Less.”

All-Day Passes purchased in the app expire after seven days. Customers can also buy the pass with cash or credit from an agent or with cash on the train. However, if a customer boards at a station where they could have purchased the pass from an agent, the conductor will charge an extra $5 fee. Paper passes are good only for the day they are sold.

Metra reminds all riders that face coverings, covering both the mouth and nose, must be worn on board trains during the pandemic by state and federal mandates. Customers should also try to observe physical distancing guidelines; no more than one person per seat, please, unless you are part of a group traveling together. Let’s all work together to keep each other safe.

Metra

21 MEN ARRESTED IN COOK COUNTY SHERIFF’S POLICE “JOHN” STING TARGETING SEX BUYERS

Cook County Sheriff’s Office

April 9th, 2021

COOK COUNTY, IL  – Officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Special Victims Unit issued citations to 21 men and towed 17 vehicles after the men responded to online prostitution advertisements, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.

On Thursday, SVU officers set up meetings at a hotel in Northwest Cook County between the buyers who arranged meetings over the internet and an officer posing as a person selling sex.

After the buyer agreed to exchange money for sex, SVU members waiting outside entered the room and took the individual into custody.

All 21 men were issued a $1,000 citation for violation of the Cook County public morals nuisance ordinance, and 17 vehicles were towed under the ordinance, requiring the vehicle owner to pay $500 to reclaim possession.

Sheriff’s Police aggressively pursues sex purchasers and offers services and support to individuals who are trapped in the sex trade.

“Sex trafficking leaves a trail of trauma in its wake,” Sheriff Dart said. “Too many victims, most of whom are women, experience violence and abuse, and we are committed to pursuing those who perpetuate this trauma by seeking to purchase sex.”

Cook County Sheriff’s Office

THE NAPERVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT RECOGNIZES DISTRACTED DRIVING AWARENESS MONTH WITH A REMINDER FOR MOTORISTS: Drop It and Drive

City of Naperville

NAPERVILLE, April 7, 2021 – April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month across the nation, and the Naperville Police Department is urging drivers to drop their phones and focus on the road with a not-so-subtle reminder: “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a total of 26,004 people died in U.S. crashes involving a distracted driver between 2012 and 2019.

In support of this effort, the Naperville Police Department is partnering with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police and more than 200 local law enforcement agencies around Illinois to enhance enforcement of distracted driving laws during the entire month of April.

“It has become all too common to see people driving down the road while looking at their phones,” said Naperville Police Sergeant Ricky Krakow. “People know texting and driving is both dangerous and illegal, but they do it anyway, putting themselves and others at risk. During April, you will see increased law enforcement efforts as officers stop and ticket anyone who violates distracted driving and other Illinois motor vehicle laws.”

This distracted driving campaign is administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation with federal traffic safety funds.

City of Naperville