4. The President exhibited a skin of a rat from Poverty Bay, which the Natives asserted was the true Maori rat, and raised a discussion as to there being a rat indigenous to these islands.
Dr. Buller believed the so-called Maori rat, which lived in trees, was really identical with the common Mus rattus of Europe.
Dr. Hector said that he concurred in this opinion; but Captain Hutton had inferred the former existence of another species from bones found in a subfossil state, and which was a flesh-eating rat, and therefore not Mus rattus, which species is very common in the bush country, and comes into Wellington during hard winters. In the northern forests they become very fat at certain seasons, when they feed on the bark of the Patete. They also feed largely on wild honey, and after Christmas are often found dead and stupefied in large numbers at the foot of the Puriri trees, being poisoned by the honey, which in some years is dangerous and even fatal to human life at that season.
Mr. McKay said rat bones were found mixed up with moa bones in situations which suggested that the rat and the moa were contemporaries, and exhibited specimens to illustrate this. Either the moa was not so ancient an inhabitant of these islands, or the rat must have been here anterior to the Maori immigration. If the Mus rattus of Europe existed here with the moa, by what agency was the rat introduced into these remote islands? It was suggested that the rat might have been introduced by the earliest navigators—perhaps by Tasman—and that the earliest rats and the latest moas existed together.
The President considered that what had been said, proved that this interesting point in the natural history of New Zealand was far from being satisfactorily settled, and hoped that no time would be lost in collecting authentic information on the subject from the natives, before it was too late.