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'Extinct' Volcano Mouse Thought to Have Perished in Pinatubo Eruption Is Rediscovered

The volcano mouse is alive and well. 
IMAGE DANILO S. BALETE / THE FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
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When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, experts feared it wiped out a species of rodent endemic to the Philippines.  The volcano mouse, also known as the long-nosed Luzon forest mouse (Apomys sacobianus), was thought to have been erased from the planet during the cataclysmic event. 

Pinatubo’s eruption was the second most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history after Krakatoa’s. The event was so cataclysmic, it changed the world’s climate as aerosols released by the volcano partially blocked sunlight and cooled the global temperature by 0.6 degrees Celsius. 

The little mouse, which lived in the volcano, was the least of the government’s concerns when they tried to account for the extent of the damage left by Pinatubo. It was assumed extinct, considering how the volcano burned and buried everything in 10 feet of ash within a 10-kilometer radius. 

Scientists were doubtful any species would survive the event until the Field Museum of Natural History based in Chicago conducted a study led by Danilo S. Balete. The researchers published their findings in a paper titled “Mammals of Mt. Pinatubo, Luzon Island, Philippines: Extreme Resilience Following Catastrophic Disturbance” in the Philippine Journal of Science

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The scientists surveyed native mammal species in Pinatubo 30 years after its eruption. They found that the volcano mouse was not extinct. In fact, they were thriving. They found the volcano mouse to be the most resilient of the mammals present in Mt. Pinatubo.

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“The most abundant native species, Apomys sacobianus, may be endemic to Mt. Pinatubo. It is an extreme example of a ‘disturbance specialist’ that thrives in a severely disturbed habitat,” wrote the researchers in their paper. 

The scientists suggest Pinatubo’s previous eruptions in the past thousands of years may have affected how animals evolved to cope with natural disasters

“Results underscore the disturbance tolerance of many native small mammals of Luzon and reveal a resilience that is remarkable for a highly endemic insular fauna. Mt. Pinatubo presents opportunities for further studies on how natural disturbance has shaped the evolution of the Philippine biota and may influence its future conservation.”

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While trapping various mammals with several types of baits, the scientists learned the volcano mouse was quite partial to earthworms than coconut meat, giving a clue to the mysterious creature’s diet. 

Previous surveys failed to detect ‘volcano mouse’

It is not the first time scientists tried to rediscover the Apomys sacobianus or volcano mouse since Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991. Balete and his team failed to document the mouse in 2013 when they searched nearby Mt. Natib and Mt. Tapulao. 

The rodent was only ever seen in Mt. Pinatubo, suggesting it has a very narrow geographic distribution. 

“Apomys sacobianus may prove to be endemic to Mt. Pinatubo and its immediate surroundings, but additional field surveys in central Luzon are required to demonstrate this,” wrote Balete in the paper. 

The volcano mouse, aka long-nosed Luzon forest mouse (Apomys sacobianus), was first described in 1956. It was found along the banks of the Sacobia River. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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