Gambian Pouched Rat, Cricetomys gambianus

The Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus), sometimes called the African giant pouch rat, is a nocturnal creature with poor eyesight. This rat can be found in the sub-Saharan areas of Africa, with a range including Senegal to Kenya and from Angola to Mozambique. Although the Gambian pouched rat has a large range, it does not appear in the Democratic Republic of the Congo most likely because Emin’s pouched rat resides there. The Gambian pouched rat prefers a habitat at anywhere between sea level and 6,600 feet. The burrows of this rat contain several passage ways, and a few chambers meant for sleeping and storage.

The Gambian pouched rat is one of the largest of all muroid rodent species, reaching body lengths of up to three feet. Although it is not a true rat, it is one of the unique species the African muroid rodent Suprfamily. This rat is named for the pouches in its cheeks, similar to those found in hamsters. It can be found living in groups of up to twenty individuals in thickets, termite mounds, or forests.

The pouches of the Gambian pouched rat can hold several pounds of food, which it gathers at night to be cached underground. This rat has been known to put so many date palms in its pouches that when it reaches its den, it can barely fit through the entrance. The diet of the Gambian pouched rat typically consists of crabs, snails, insects, and vegetables, but it prefers palm kernels and palm fruits. It will mate several times within a nine-month period, producing litters of up to six young. Male rats are known to be aggressive towards other males.

On Grassy Key in the Florida Keys, the Gambian pouched rat is considered an invasive species, after individuals kept as pets escaped. These rats were thought to have spread a case of monkey pox that infected twenty people. They received the disease from prairie dogs that caught it from the rats in the wild, before they were sold as pets. From these incidents, the CDC and FDA issued a command that prevents rodent importation.

The Gambian pouched rat is also known for aiding people in search for tuberculosis and land mines. They have an incredible sense of smell, and a Tanzanian social group founded by two Belgians, called APOPO, trains these rats. The pouch rats involved in the group are called HeroRATS. The Gambian pouched rat has a conservation status of “Least Concern”.

Image Caption: APOPO HeroRAT rat getting food reward. Credit: Gooutside/Wikipedia