ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A professor at Abilene Christian University discovered a new rat species in Ecuador and the news of this discovery was published in Vertebrate Zoology, a scientific journal.

Courtesy of ACU

Dr. Tom Lee, Clark Stevens Professor of Biology at ACU, discovered a rat species, Thomasomys Burneoi, on a trip to in Ecuador in 2010. Three years ago, Lee received a clue that the rats he had seen nine years prior, may have been a new species, according to a press release from ACU.

“I encountered these species a pretty long time ago, but because this is a new species, it was very difficult to nail down what it was,” Lee recalled.

After comparison and research, he wrote an article in a peer-reviewed journal and as of 2022, the Thomasomys Burneoi species is official.

This rat species, also known as Burneo’s Oldfield mouse, was named after Lee’s friend and colleague, Santiago Burneo. Burneo is a professor and researcher at Pontifica Universidad Católicadel Ecuadorin in Quito, Ecuador. They met when Lee was searching for a place to research mammals and have worked together on many projects since.

“To have it named after me was a really great surprise,” Burneo expressed. “This motivates me to keep doing the work we do and to keep researching and doing conservation activities for the mammals.”

Courtesy of ACU

The Burneo’s Oldfield mouse was discovered in the Andes Mountains, 2,500 meters above sea level. This species is the 48th in the Thomasomys kingdom and the 18th species of this kingdom found in Ecuador. The mouse can range from 0.4 to 7.2 inches in length, the largest Thomasomys species known in Ecuador.

Dr. Bob Dowler, a colleague of Lee, worked closely with Lee’s research and invited him to research together in the Galapagos Islands in 2000.

“There was not a lot known about the rodents that were there,” Dowler recalled. “Lee and I were colleagues, and he started his research efforts from that point on.

Lee has discovered four species in Ecuador, including the Tanyuromys Thomasleei (a long-tailed montane rat). His research is also aided by students in ACU’s Department of Biology and provides students with unique opportunities and real world experiences.

“All those trips to Ecuador, there’s always students involved. There has never been a trip where I just went down there by myself,” Lee said.

On October 25 this year, the Vertebrate Zoology scientific journal published Lee’s research. This scientific journal focuses on research in taxonomy, morphology, anatomy, phylogeny, historical biogeography, and paleontology of vertebrates. The news of this species has travelled all the way to Singapore, in the Straits Times newspaper.

“This speaks to the fact that we’re doing research at a really high level,” Lee said.