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Species of the Week: a squirrel? a rat? No, its Kha-Nyou (Laonastes aenigmamus)

By on July 18, 2011 in Species of the Week, Uncategorized

This weeks star comes to you courtesy of our twitter followers. Kha-Nyou resembles a cross between a squirrel and a large rat, with its elongated head, small, rounded ears and a bushy tail; but is actually more closely related to guinea pigs and chinchillas.


Despite being the sole representative of 44 million years of unique evolutionary history one of its particular attractions is the manner upon which it was discovered just a few years ago. Most researchers don’t expect to make brake through discoveries while visiting a market in Lao. Yet, that is exactly how Robert Timmins (WCS) first encountered the Kha-Nyou: waiting to be grilled! He probably did not image that this would be the first mammal family to be discovered in 30 years.

Gundi species

Kha-Nyou is a living fossil, the sole surviving member of an ancient group of rodents that was previously considered to have gone extinct some 11 million years ago. Its closest relatives are the gundis of Africa, and it is extremely distinct from all other mammal species.

This nocturnal rodent might be confined to the Phou Hin Poun National Biodiversity Conservation Area and is only known from an area of limestone karst in Khammouan Province in Lao PDR. The Kha-Nyou is thought to be under pressure from hunting practices and possibly habitat degradation. However, having been first described in 2005, there is still a lot we don’t know, and research into its biology and conservation are necessary.