WANTED: Giant Rat For Cracking Coconuts Why in the world are coconuts so tough to crack? Where in the world can you find a giant rodent to do it for you? And what in the world did scientists finally discover after 90 years of waiting? Join Guy Raz and Mindy as they travel far and wide, to search for the elusive "coconut cracker!" It's the latest Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and Wow In the World of coconut cracking rats!
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WANTED: Giant Rat For Cracking Coconuts

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WANTED: Giant Rat For Cracking Coconuts

WANTED: Giant Rat For Cracking Coconuts

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/566708117/566711484" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: Stay seated. Three, two one - ignition.

Get ready for an adventure of magnificent proportions.

(Singing) I don't know what you've been told, but we're in a golden age - so many discoveries that are jumping off the page. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world.

With Guy and Mindy.

We're on our way, Houston.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

(Grunting).

MINDY THOMAS, HOST:

Guy Raz?

RAZ: (Grunting).

THOMAS: Guy Raz? You OK in there, buddy? Whoa, whoa, whoa, what is going on in here?

RAZ: I'm just trying to get crack open this coconut.

THOMAS: With a hammer? Give me that thing. You're not even using it correctly.

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: Man, you really have gone cuckoo for coconuts, haven't you?

RAZ: Mindy, coconuts are packed with nutrients. They're good for our immune system so we don't get sick as easily. They're good for our hearts. They help to keep our skin healthy.

THOMAS: Yeah, and they also really stress you out when you can't bust them open.

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: Careful, Guy Raz, you're going to hurt yourself.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW MOTOR STARTING)

THOMAS: What in the...

RAZ: Well, how else am I going to get this thing open if I want to get the nutrients out of it?

THOMAS: A chainsaw - are you kidding me, man? Stop. Stop it. Stop it right now. That's it, I'm pulling the plug on this operation.

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: Guy Raz, there is a better way.

RAZ: Wait, did you say there's a better way?

THOMAS: OK, to be clear, there are a million better ways of busting open a coconut, but we're going to try the most newly discovered way.

RAZ: Oh, great. Is this, like, a new kind of invention we can just, you know, pick up from the store, maybe, you know, order online - same-day delivery - something like that?

THOMAS: Well, not exactly. You see, we sort of need to - well, we need to bring your coconut to the coconut cracker itself.

RAZ: That sounds like too much work. Here, here, just hand me that hammer.

THOMAS: Nope. Don't you come near this hammer.

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: Guy Raz, do you trust me?

RAZ: No.

THOMAS: (Yelling) Reggie (ph).

RAZ: Oh, boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD COOING)

RAZ: You know, Mindy, on second thought, I can just run to the store and grab, you know, a jar of organic, unfiltered coconut oil and, you know, kind of go on with my day.

THOMAS: Get on the bird, Guy Raz.

RAZ: Mindy, I have a very busy day ahead of me and...

THOMAS: Saddle up. This might be a wild ride.

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: Here, put these on.

RAZ: OK, but this better only take a minute.

THOMAS: Guy Raz, Reggie, hold on to your coconuts.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD COOING)

THOMAS: Next stop - Solomon Islands, South Pacific.

RAZ: Mindy, I just don't...

THOMAS: Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMAS: (Grunting).

RAZ: (Grunting).

THOMAS: Ah, you OK, Guy Raz?

RAZ: Well, I'm a little banged up, but not even that crash landing could crack this coconut, Mindy.

THOMAS: Well, don't you worry your funny little head about that because we have come to the right place for coconut cracking.

RAZ: Where are we? This looks like the middle of nowhere. Are we in a rain forest?

THOMAS: Guy Raz, welcome to the island of Vangunu, part of the Solomon Islands. Here, you can see it right here on this map.

RAZ: Let me see that. Solomon Islands - so we're on one of these islands in the South Pacific. It looks like we're just a little tiny bit northeast of Australia.

THOMAS: Yup, and we're on that one right there.

RAZ: That giant red island that's covering up the others?

THOMAS: No, that's ketchup. I use this map as a place mat for my lunch sometimes. Here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LICK)

RAZ: Ugh.

THOMAS: There, all better.

RAZ: So do you want to tell me why I'm standing here in the middle of a remote island in the South Pacific, holding a coconut?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah, well, that's because we're here to see that coconut cracker I was telling you about.

RAZ: The coconut cracker?

THOMAS: Well, also known as the Uromys vika or the Vangunu giant rat.

RAZ: Rat?

THOMAS: Did I just say rat?

RAZ: You said rat.

THOMAS: Here's the deal. For the last 20 years - hang on a second. Hey, Jed.

JED ANDERSON, BYLINE: Yello (ph).

THOMAS: Can get some mysterious, legendy-sounding (ph) music up in here?

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORD SCRATCH)

ANDERSON: Oh, sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMAS: Thanks, man. For the past two decades, the people of this very island have been telling scientists about the elusive Vangunu giant rat, who, as legend would have it, has lived amongst them in the trees but never before been spotted by an outsider.

RAZ: In the trees - like, high up in the branches, like, in the canopy?

THOMAS: And the scientists were all, nah, we can't see it, we don't believe it, for it had been 80 years since a new rodent species was discovered on this island.

RAZ: But eventually, they did discover that it exists, right?

THOMAS: So there were some scientists, like Tyrone Lavery from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. That guy spent years searching for this legendary creature.

RAZ: And did he ever find it?

THOMAS: Nope. Bummer alert - he did not.

RAZ: Oh, that's too bad.

THOMAS: But he did find some poop.

RAZ: Mindy.

THOMAS: And after digging around in that poop for a while, he discovered the fur of an unidentified species of rodent.

RAZ: The Vangunu giant rat.

THOMAS: And then in the year 2015...

RAZ: Uh, that was, like, two years ago.

THOMAS: A ranger from the island named Hikuna Judge was just out, minding his own beeswax, taking a walk through the island's thick rain forest when a giant rat fell from the sky.

RAZ: What?

THOMAS: Well, I mean, technically, it jumped out of the tree it had been living in, but anywho (ph), it was in that moment that the Vangunu giant rat went from being a legend to a scientific fact.

RAZ: The first new rodent species found on the island in 80 years.

THOMAS: Exactorinos (ph), Guy Raz - pretty cool, huh?

RAZ: So do we need to be worried about, you know, giant tree-dwelling rats falling from the sky?

THOMAS: Well, I mean, if it's your thing, then, yeah, I guess.

RAZ: (Yelling) Reggie, take me back home, please.

THOMAS: I'm just joking, Guy Raz. You don't have to worry about giant rats falling out of trees and bonking you on the head. In fact, the Vangunu giant rat, or the Uromys vika, as scientists call it, is super-duper rare.

RAZ: Well, I'm looking up into the trees of this rain forest, and there's a super thick canopy of leaves and branches. It's hard to even see the sky. And maybe it makes it easier for the Vangunu giant rat to hide.

THOMAS: Yup, that's one reason, but the other reason is that timber companies have been coming to the island and cutting down the trees - like, most of the trees.

RAZ: And to lots of creatures in the wild, trees are their homes and their habitats.

THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, can you imagine if nearly all the homes in your town were destroyed?

RAZ: That would be awful.

THOMAS: Yeah, so that's kind of what it's like to be a Vangunu giant rat on the island of Vangunu. And without a home and everything that comes with it, it's really difficult to survive there. And now there's even talk of the Vangunu giant rat becoming an official endangered species.

RAZ: ...Meaning they're a risk of extinction.

THOMAS: You know it - pretty sad, huh?

RAZ: Yeah, sure is. So I don't know if now is the right time to bring this up, Mindy, but didn't you bring me here so that the Vangunu giant rat could, you know, crack open my coconut?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. So while we've been talking down here, Reggie's actually been up in the treetops making some new friends. Hey, Reg (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD COOING)

THOMAS: And it looks like he actually found you one of those elusive coconut crackers.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD COOING)

RAZ: Whoa, is that a - is that a Vangunu giant rat riding on his back, holding a lasso?

THOMAS: Nope, that's something in your eye. Here he comes. Look at that giant rat.

RAZ: Man, if only scientists could get a load of this.

THOMAS: Oh, man. OK, so walk up to him slowly so you can get a closer look. Here, take your coconut.

RAZ: Whoa, he's way bigger than I thought he would be.

THOMAS: I know, right? He weighs in at about 2 pounds and is 1 1/2 feet long from nose to tail.

RAZ: Whoa.

THOMAS: In fact, he's about four times bigger than the average city-dumpster rat.

RAZ: Whoa.

THOMAS: Isn't he a cutie?

RAZ: Well, I guess you could say he has cute little ears - you know, comparatively speaking. And he's got pretty wide feet with big pads and curved paws and...

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. Those big, wide feet help him to move around on those skinny forest branches high up in the trees where he lives.

RAZ: And his long hairless tail - it looks like it's covered in tiny scales with big patches of skin, kind of like an opossum.

THOMAS: Yup. And now I'm going to try to make him laugh so you can check out his teeth, OK?

RAZ: Uh, yeah, I think I'm good.

THOMAS: No, really. You know that some baby rats laugh when you tickle them, right?

RAZ: I've heard that somewhere before.

THOMAS: Yeah, it's so crazy. So these researchers at Germany's Humboldt University did a whole study on it about a year ago. Some baby rats laugh when they're tickled, but at a frequency that's too high to hear with our own human ears.

RAZ: It's just incredible to think about laughing rats.

THOMAS: So I'm just going to tell this giant rat a joke and see if we can at least get a smile out of him.

RAZ: Oh, no.

THOMAS: Ahem. Hey, buddy, so what's a rat's favorite game? Eh?

RAZ: I don't think he's going to respond to you, Mindy.

THOMAS: Hide-and-squeak - get it?

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD COOING)

THOMAS: Reggie gets it.

RAZ: Wait, wait, wait, oh, I got one. Why was the rat afraid of the river?

THOMAS: I don't think he speaks English, Guy Raz.

RAZ: Catfish - get it? - cat fish.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAT SQUEAKING)

THOMAS: Wait, look, I think he's smiling. Oh, man, get a good look at those teeth.

RAZ: Whoa, those are some long, sharp teeth.

THOMAS: ...Which brings me to the reason we're here, Guy Raz.

RAZ: Oh, no, you're not going to feed me to that giant rat, are you, Mindy?

THOMAS: What? No. Why would I feed you to the giant rat?

RAZ: Whew.

THOMAS: You probably taste like kale and kombucha, and that just wouldn't be fair to this giant little guy.

RAZ: What? I don't taste like kombucha, do I?

(SOUNDBITE OF SNIFFING)

THOMAS: Guy Raz, stop sniffing your own armpits and bust out your coconut.

RAZ: Oh, wait a minute. You mean to tell me that this guy really is the coconut cracker?

THOMAS: In the flesh and in the fur.

RAZ: Wow. OK, well, should I put the coconut on a plate first, maybe, you know, with a little garnish?

THOMAS: What? No, just put it on the ground and watch him work his magic.

RAZ: OK, well, I'm just going to gently place this coconut on the ground here, and I'm going to slowly back away a little bit.

THOMAS: He's moving towards it.

RAZ: His teeth are starting to look all powered up.

THOMAS: Ooh, there he goes. He's using his sharp teeth to crack the shell of the coconut.

RAZ: And now he's running away with it.

THOMAS: Aw, rats.

RAZ: Hey, that rat stole my coconut. You know what, Mindy? Maybe I should just let him have it. I mean, you know, with all of his trees getting chopped down, they're probably getting harder and harder to come by anyway.

THOMAS: Yeah, that's probably for the best. Hey, do you want this Mounds bar that's been melting in my pocket for two weeks? It's got chocolate and coconut.

RAZ: I think I'll pass. Why don't we just go back to the lab? (Yelling) Hey, Reggie, you ready?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE DIALING)

THOMAS: Hi, thanks for calling WOW IN THE WORLD. After the beep, get ready to record.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

MAGGIE: Hi, my name is Maggie (ph), and I am 8 years old. I live in North Carolina. My wow in the world is, if we didn't blink, our eyeballs would dry out and we couldn't move them. We'd have to move our heads instead. Hi, Guy Raz. Hi, Mindy. I love your show. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

JOAN: My name is Joan (ph), and I live in Kenya. And my wow in the world is that there are 148,000 hippos in Kenya. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

EVAN: Hi, Mindy and Guy Raz. My name is Evan (ph), and I live in Hilliard, Ohio. My wow in the world is that bald eagles use their poop to stick their nests together.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

ELLA: Hi, my name's Ella (ph). I'm 8 years old. I'm from New Jersey. And my wow in the world is, in our class, we're - at school, we're learning about Georgia O'Keeffe, and I'm painting lots of flowers like her. Bye, Mindy, Guy Raz. I love your show.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

JACK: Hi, my name is Jack (ph). I am from Macomb, Ill., and I am 9 years old. And my wow in the world is the leap year, February 29, comes around every four years, and I was born on that leap year, so I'm legally 2. Thank you and goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

TESS: Hi, my name's Tess (ph). I'm from Baltimore. And my wow in the world is that we went canoeing, and we saw a snapping turtle. It was so, so, so cool. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

ADRIAN: My name's Adrian (ph), and I'm from California. And my wow in my world is that penguins eat jellyfish. Bye, I love your show.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

STERLING: Hi, my name is Sterling (ph). I'm 6 years old. My wow in the world is that I got a wiggly tooth and lost it in the same day. Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

ISAAC: Hi, name is Isaac (ph), and I'm from Colorado. And wow in the world is playing with my big brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: End of messages.

THOMAS: Hey, everyone, thank you so much for joining us this week for WOW IN THE WORLD.

RAZ: And if you want to keep the conversation going, check out some of the questions we've posted on this episode at our website, wowintheworld.com.

THOMAS: You'll also be able to find all of the sources and journal articles we used for today's show.

RAZ: Our show was produced by Jed Anderson with help from Thomas Van Culkin (ph), Chelsea Ursin and Jessica Bati (ph). Meredith Halpern-Ranzer is the big boss.

THOMAS: Our theme song was composed and performed by The Pop Ups. Find more of their awesome all-ages music at thepopups.com

RAZ: Hey, parents and teachers, if you want to send us an email, our address is hello@wowintheworld.com. You can also send snail mail to Wow in the World, care of NPR, 1111 North Capitol St. NE, Washington D.C., 20007.

THOMAS: You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - @wowintheworld.

RAZ: And if you want to be featured at the end of the show, call us up and tell us your wow in the world.

THOMAS: Our phone number is 1-888-7-WOW-WOW. That's 1-888-7-WOW-WOW.

RAZ: And parents, if you want to upload any photos or videos or messages to us, please visit wowintheworld.com and find the link where you can do just that.

THOMAS: And if you haven't already done so, please subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts, and be sure to tell a friend. Until next time, keep on wowing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: WOW IN THE WORLD was made by Tinkercast and sent to you by NPR.

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