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Scientists rediscover adorable rare volcano mouse thought to be extinct

The mouse species survived a devastating volcano eruption in the Philippines.

This is the cute little critter rediscovered on the Pinatubo volcano on the Philippine Island of Luzon.

Danny Balete/Field Museum

Good news: A tiny mouse thought to be extinct has been found again, and it's thriving. 

Mount Pinatubo on the island Luzon in the Philippines erupted violently in 1991, killing hundreds and destroying the landscape around it. Later expeditions to study the wildlife in the area turned up the surprising survival of a diverse group of fauna, including bats and a very rare volcano-dwelling mouse.

The researchers published their findings in the Philippine Journal of Science this month. 

"When Pinatubo blew up, probably the last thing on anyone's mind was that a little species of mouse was thought to live only on that one mountain, and might well have become extinct as a result," said co-author Larry Heaney in a Field Museum statement last week. "What we've learned subsequently really blew us away."

The area around Mount Pinatubo is still recovering after a massive eruption in 1991.

Danny Balete/Field Museum

Apomys sacobianus, the Pinatubo volcano mouse, was previously known from a single specimen described in 1962 and kept at the US National Museum of Natural History. 

Researchers returned to Pinatubo a couple of decades after the eruption to find out what had become of the mammals that once lived there. "Despite the fact that all areas surveyed supported sparse, scrubby second-growth vegetation rather than forest, native rodents were abundant everywhere," the Field Museum said. 

The volcano mouse had not only survived, its population was booming. It was a surprise that a species found in such a localized area made it through a volcanic catastrophe that wiped out entire forests.  

"Mt. Pinatubo could be a wonderful place to establish a long-term project to monitor habitat recovery and community re-assembly following the eruption," said lead author Eric Rickart of the Natural History Museum of Utah. "Such information would be helpful in efforts to regenerate the many areas that have been deforested by people."  

This isn't the only volcano mouse news to come out recently. In mid-2020, scientists announced the discovery of a yellow-rumped mouse living at the top of a 22,000-foot volcano in the Andes, making it the highest-dwelling mammal yet known. Sometimes good science things come in small furry packages.