10 Recently Extinct Shrews, Bats and Rodents

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10 Shrews, Bats and Rodents That Have Gone Extinct in Historical Times

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When the dinosaurs went kaput, 65 million years ago, it was the tiny, tree-dwelling, mouse-sized mammals that managed to survive into the Cenozoic Era and spawn a mighty race. Unfortunately, being small, furry and inoffensive is no proof against oblivion, as witness the tragic tales of these ten recently extinct bats, rodents and shrews. (See also 100 Recently Extinct Animals and Why Do Animals Go Extinct?)

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The Big-Eared Hopping Mouse

big eared hopping mouse
The Big-Eared Hopping Mouse (John Gould).

Just how entrenched are the marsupials of Australia? Well, to the extent that even placental mammals have evolved over millions of years to imitate marsupial lifestyles. Alas, hopping kangaroo-style across the continent's southwest wasn't enough to save the Big-Eared Hopping Mouse, which suffered encroachment by European settlers (who cleared this rodent's habitat for agricultural purposes) and was mercilessly preyed upon by imported dogs and cats. Other species of hopping mouse are still extant (though dwindling) down under, but the Big-Eared variety vanished in the mid-19th century.

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The Bulldog Rat

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The Bulldog Rat (Charles William Andrews).

If a rodent can be driven to extinction on the huge island continent of Australia, imagine how quickly the process can take place in an area a fraction of the size. Native to Christmas Island, over a thousand miles off the coast of Australia, the Bulldog Rat wasn't quite as large as its namesake--only about one pound soaking wet, much of that weight comprised of the inch-thick layer of fat covering its body. The most likely explanation for the extinction of the Bulldog Rat is that it succumbed to  diseases carried by the Black Rat (which hitched a ride with unwitting European sailors during the Age of Exploration).

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The Dark Flying Fox

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The Dark Flying Fox (Wikimedia Commons).

Technically a bat and not a fox, the Dark Flying Fox was native to the islands of Reunion and Mauritius (you may recognize the latter as the home of another famous extinct animal, the Dodo). This fruit-eating bat had the unfortunate habit of crowding itself into the backs of caves and high up in the branches of trees, where it was easily rousted by hungry settlers. As a French sailor wrote in the late 18th century, when the Dark Flying Fox was already well on its way to extinction, "They are hunted for their meat, for their fat, for young individuals, throughout all the summer, all the autumn and part of the winter, by whites with a gun, by negros with nets."

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The Giant Vampire Bat

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The Giant Vampire Bat (Wikimedia Commons).

If you're of a fearful disposition, you may not much regret the extinction of the Giant Vampire Bat (Desmodus draculae), a plus-sized bloodsucker that fluttered across Pleistocene South America (and may well have survived into early historical times). Despite its name, the Giant Vampire Bat was only slightly bigger than the still-extant Common Vampire Bat (meaning it weighed perhaps three rather than two ounces) and probably preyed on the same types of mammals. No one knows exactly why the Giant Vampire Bat went extinct, but its unusually widespread habitat (remains have been found as far south as Brazil) points to climate change as a possible culprit.

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The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse

indefatigable galapagos mouse
The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse (George Waterhouse).

First things first: if the Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse was truly indefatigable, it wouldn't be on this list. (In fact, the "indefatigable" part derives from the name of its island in the Galapagos archipelago, which itself derives from a European sailing ship.) Now that we've gotten that out of the way, the Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse suffered the fate of many small mammals unfortunate enough to encounter human settlers, including encroachment on its natural habitat and lethal diseases introduced by hitchhiking Black Rats. Only one species of the Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse, Nesoryzomys indefffesus, has gone extinct; another, N. narboroughi, is still extant on another island.

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The Lesser Stick-Nest Rat

lesser stick nest rat
The Lesser Stick-Nest Rat (John Gould).

Australia has certainly had its share of weird (or at least weirdly named) animals. A contemporary of the Big-Eared Hopping Mouse, above, the Lesser Stick-Nest Rat was a rodent that apparently mistook itself for a bird, assembling fallen sticks into enormous nests (some as big as nine feet long and three feet high) on the ground. Unfortunately, the Lesser Stick-Nest Rat was both succulent and excessively trusting of human settlers, a sure recipe for extinction. The last known live rat was caught on film in 1933, but there was a well-attested sighting in 1970--and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature holds out hope that some Lesser Stick-Nest Rats persist in Australia's vast interior.

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The Puerto Rican Hutia

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The Cuban Hutia, a close relative of the Puerto Rican variety (Wikimedia Commons).

The Puerto Rican Hutia holds a place of (dubious) honor on this list: historians believe that no less a personage than Christopher Columbus feasted on this plump rodent when he and his crew landed in the West Indies in the late 15th century. It wasn't the excessive hunger of European explorers that doomed the Hutia; in fact, it had been hunted by the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico for thousands of years. What did the Puerto Rican Hutia in was, first, an invasion of Black Rats (which stowed away in the hulls of European ships), and, later, a plague of mongooses. There are still extant species of Hutia alive today, most notably in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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The Sardinian Pika

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The Sardinian Pika (Wikimedia Commons).

In 1774, the Jesuit priest Francesco Cetti memorialized the existence of "giant rats, of which the land is so abundant that one will crop out of the ground recently removed by pigs." It sounds like a gag from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the Sardinian Pika was actually a larger-than-average rabbit lacking a tail, a close cousin of the Corsican Pika that lived the next island over in the Mediterranean Sea. Like other extinct animals on this list, the Sardinian Pika had the misfortune to be tasty, and was considered a delicacy by the mysterious "Nuragici" civilization native to the island. Along with its close cousin, the Corsican Pika, it disappeared from the face of the earth by the turn of the 19th century.  

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Vespucci's Rodent

vespucci's rodent
Vespucci's Rodent (Wikimedia Commons).

Christopher Columbus wasn't the only European celebrity to glimpse an exotic New World rodent: Vespucci's Rodent is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who lent his name to two vast continents. This rat was native to the islands of Fernando de Noronha, a couple hundred miles off the northeast coast of Brazil. Like other small mammals on this list, the one-pound Vespucci's Rodent was doomed by the pests and pets that accompanied the first European settlers, including Black Rats, the common House Mouse, and hungry tabby cats. Unlike the case with Columbus and the Puerto Rican Hutia, there's no evidence that Amerigo Vespucci actually ate one of his eponymous rats, which went extinct in the late 19th century.

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The White-Footed Rabbit-Rat

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The White-Footed Rabbit Rat (John Gould).

The third in our triptych of bizarre Australian rodents--after the Big-Eared Hopping Mouse and the Lesser Stick-Nest Rat--the White-Footed Rabbit Rat was unusually large (about the size of a kitten) and built nests of leaves and grass in the hollows of Eucalyptus trees, the preferred food source of the Koala Bear. Ominously, the White-Footed Rabbit Rat was referred to by early European settlers as the "rabbit biscuit," but in fact it was doomed by invasive species (like cats and Black Rats) and the destruction of its natural habit, not by its desirability as a food source. The last well-attested sighting was in the mid-19th century; the White-Footed Rabbit Rat hasn't been seen since.