Plagiodontia Aedium Bondi
Image: Jose Nunez-Mino/The Last Survivors Project

Have you heard about the newly discovered hutia yet? The cat-sized, guinea pig-like rodent lives on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and has been identified by a team of researchers led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The new subspecies has been named Plagiodontia aedium bondi, after James Bond – no, not that James Bond.

Move over secret agents, this honour goes to the ornithologists. That's because the man behind the newly discovered hutia's scientific name was an eminent American ornithologist and an expert on Caribbean birds. And since ornithologists don't get to blow up blimps, commute in one-man crocodile submarines or defeat super-villains set on destroying humanity in order to create a super-race in space, let's at least allow them this moment in the (taxonomic) spotlight. 

American ornithologist James Bond. Image: Jerry Freilich, Wikimedia Commons

"We named the hutia after the ornithologist James Bond because he originally identified a biogeographic barrier in southern Haiti, now called Bond's Line, which marks the boundary between the distribution of this hutia and its closest relatives," explains ZSL's Dr Samuel Turvey, who led the team behind the discovery.

The unassuming ornithologist did have some connection to secret agentry, however: author Ian Fleming's naming inspiration for his martini-swilling fictional spy struck while he was reading the ornithologist's book, "Birds of the West Indies".

As for the James Bond hutias, scientists know very little about their secretive lives on Hispaniola (their nocturnal habits and burrowing ways don't help there), but the unlikely discovery was an exciting one nonetheless. "The discovery of new mammals is always incredibly exciting, as there are now so few unexplored places left in the world," says Turvey.

Sadly, the rodents are considered endangered and their continued survival on the island hangs in the balance. Hutias belong to a unique mammal family that once encompassed well over 20 different species, but scientists estimate that human encroachment has wiped out all but eight of these.

"I am glad we were able to describe James Bond’s hutia before it’s too late, as it is highly threatened by uncontrolled deforestation, even in protected areas," says Turvey. "Species found on isolated islands, such as those in the Caribbean, have been shaken and stirred by human activity and are very vulnerable to extinction. However, we hope that conservation efforts will mean that hutias are forever." 

Source: ZSL

The new research is published in the journal Zootaxa. 

Top header image: Sander van der Wel, Flickr