Bushy-tailed Woodrat, Neotoma cinerea

The bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea) is also known as the packrat or the woodrat. It is native to the United States and Canada. Its range extends from arctic Canada south to northern Arizona. It also extends to the far eastern portions of Nebraska and the Dakotas. It is able to live in many types of habitats from deserts to boreal forests, but it prefers to live in rocky areas like cliffs or rocky fields, and it can also be found in abandoned mines or buildings. It will inhabit open areas at an elevation of up to 14,000 feet.

The bushy-tailed woodrat can reach an average body length between eleven and eighteen inches, with a weight of 1.3 pounds. Half of its length is comprised of the tail, and males are typically larger than females. It bears large ears and bushy tail that resembles that of a squirrel, from which it derives its common name. Individuals are typically brown in color, with black hairs appearing on the back, and with a pale underbelly.

Although the bushy-tailed woodrat is primarily nocturnal, it can be active during the day and is active year round. Typically, individuals are territorial and prefer to live a solitary life. These rats prefer to construct middens in natural crevices, but will inhabit abandoned manmade structures if needed. Nests are placed within the middens where young are raised. These middens can appear as high as fifty feet within coniferous forest trees. Because it does not hibernate, it will store food in several areas of its midden to eat throughout the winter.

Because these rats are so territorial, many fights will occur between males. The males will claim territories through scent markings. The mating season for this species occurs between the months of May and August, and females can produce litters of up to six young one or two times each year. Because females only have four teats, larger litters are more likely to suffer losses. Females have been recorded nursing while pregnant with another litter.

Young bushy-tailed woodrats are weaned at 26 to 30 days of age, but will not leave the birth nest at that point. Males will leave at two and half months of age, while females tend to remain in the birth area, resulting in overlapping home ranges. Mothers have been known to share food stores with daughters, and it is thought that if an area has a higher number of females, more males will appear during mating season.

The diet of the bushy-tailed woodrat consists mainly of green vegetation, but it also holds twigs, fruits, mushrooms, seeds, and occasionally small animals. In arid regions, these rats tend to eat more succulent plants in order to consume more water, as that is where these rats consume water in every area of its range. This species is known to choose shiny objects over whatever it was previously carrying.

Common predators of the bushy-tailed woodrat include black bears, bobcats, coyotes, weasels, and hawks. When alarmed, these rats will beat their hind feet against the ground. In the winter, some reptiles may inhabit that middens that protect their rat prey, and the rattlesnake is a common example of this. The bushy-tailed woodrat appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “least Concern”.

Image Caption: Neotoma cinerea – North American woodrat. Credit: Ken Cole, USGS/Wikipedia