Eastern Woodrat

Neotoma floridana (Ord)



Description:   The eastern woodrat, though large, is mouse-like in general appearance. It can be distinguished from other members of its family by: 1) grayish-brown upperparts lighter on the sides, 2) pale, fine, soft fur, 3) white throat, belly, and feet, 4) tail black above, white below, shorter than the head and body and well-furred, and 5) having musk glands on ventral midline of belly which stain the hair yellowish to brownish. Females have six nipples. In their second year the grayish young attain the rich buff pelage of adults. Sexes are colored alike; males are slightly larger than females.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 310-398 mm; tail 129-180 mm; hind foot 35-42 mm; ear 18-28 mm; weight 273-400 grams.

Range and Habitat:   Two subspecies occur in Kansas, Neotoma floridana campestris in the northwestern part of the state and Neotoma floridana attwateri in the eastern half of the state. The eastern woodrat is most frequently associated with trees, either along stream courses in the western part of the state, or in deciduous forests in the east. In both areas it prefers rock outcrops as den sites.

Reproduction:   One or two litters of one to six young (usually three or four) are produced between February and August or September after a gestation period of 30 to 37 days. There is a lull in breeding in mid-summer. At birth the eyes of the young eastern woodrat are closed and the body naked or only slightly haired with gray pigmentation on the back of the head and sides. Their incisors are already erupted. In five days hair appears and in two weeks the eyes open; the body is then completely covered with silver gray except the feet, which are white. In nine days their ears are unfolded. They are weaned in three to four weeks and in eight months they are adult size. Males and most females do not breed until they are yearlings.

Habits:   The nest of the eastern woodrat is an accumulation of miscellaneous items including dry twigs, leaves, bark, bones, small rocks, dried grasses, and virtually whatever is available. The conspicuous nest may be used by many generations and varies in size from less than .035 cubic meters to as much as .35 cubic meters or more. The nest is flat or conical when built on the ground and cylindrical or globular when supported by a tree. Nests placed in rock outcrops conform to an opening in the cliff or are irregularly placed over the mouth of a crevice. Within the nest is a chamber lined with shredded bark and soft material which is used for shelter and for raising young. Other chambers are for storing food, feeding, and for depositing fecal material. Underground nests are a series of subterranean chambers used for escape or for habitation during severely cold weather. Well-used trails run from the nest and connect to trees or other surface features in the foraging territory. Most foraging is done at night, but in autumn, when food is being stored, activity increases. Cottontails, shrews, and white-footed mice may make temporary or permanent quarters in eastern woodrat nests. While such communal relationships may be tolerated, eastern woodrats are strongly territorial, and will defend their nests against other members of their species. Escape from potential predators is either by running, retreat to subterranean recesses, or by climbing into the upper branches of a tree near the nest. On the ground, the eastern woodrat moves by rapid dashes and pauses. Grating of teeth, tail vibrations, thumping of the hind feet, and vocalizing with a sharp squeal, along with a musky odor, are signs of recognition or defense. Population densities of this small mammal fluctuate, especially in response to unfavorable weather. Many nests may be unoccupied when their population density is low, but will be reoccupied when their numbers increase.

Food:   Food is mainly leaves of trees, shrubs and forbs, but also includes fruit, berries, bark, tubers, nuts, mushrooms, and plant buds.

Remarks:   Predators of the eastern woodrat include snakes, skunks, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls. Its habit of bringing odd items to its nest has given it the name of "pack rat." Maximum longevity of this rat in nature is about three years.

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