The Bushy-tailed woodrat is a rodent that lives in the United States and Canada. It is clearly distinguished by its bushy tail and big ears. This large, gentle rodent is like a squirrel. Its adult fur is long, soft, and dense, and is usually gray on its back and tawny brown on the sides. Its feet and undersides are white. The longevity of this species is little known, but one captive individual lived for 5.8 years
Bushy-tailed woodrats inhabit western North America, from arctic Canada south to northern Arizona and New Mexico, and eastwards to the western parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska. They occur in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to boreal forests. Their prefer to live in and around rocky areas, often along canyons, cliffs, open rocky fields and talus slopes. They adapt readily to buildings and mines that have been abandoned.
Habits and lifestyle
Bushy-tailed woodrats are active year round. They are nocturnal animals, solitary, and very territorial, defending their ranges by means of scent markings and confrontational encounters. They have fairly limited home ranges. It used to be thought that they didn’t venture more than 60 m away from their nests, but it has been observed that a female may forage up to 500 m from her nest. The Bushy-tailed woodrat makes a midden of plant material and feces which solidify with crystallized urine. The nest is usually hidden in a rock crevice or a pile of sticks. These animals also build several caches for food, which they use during the winter. This species does not hibernate.
colony, pack, plague, swarm
Diet and nutrition
The Bushy-tailed woodrat is a generalist herbivore and favors green vegetation (leaves, shoots and needles), but it will also eat twigs, fruits, seeds, nuts mushrooms, and some animal material. A southeastern Idaho study found grasses, cactus, vetch, mustard plants and sagebrush in their diets, with a few arthropods as well. In drier habitats, these animals eat more succulent plants.
The reproductive cycle of these woodrats is not fully understood. Various authors have considered them polygynous (with one male mating with multiple females), and/or polygynandrous (males and females both mating with multiple mates - promiscuous). Often these conclusions are drawn not through observing mating behavior, but due to the size and overlapping of the ranges of males and females. Breeding mainly takes place form May through to August (spring and summer). Litters can be as many as six young (3 on average), and a mother may bear as many as three litters per year. Females can breed again within twelve hours after giving birth, and so may be pregnant with one litter when nursing another. The gestation period of this species in captivity is 27-32 days. The eyes of a newborn open at about 15 days old, and the young are weaned at 26-30 days. Females mate for the first time as yearlings.
pup, pinkie, kit
There are currently no major threats to Bushy-tailed woodrats.
According to IUCN, Bushy-tailed woodrat is very wide ranging, but no overall population estimate is available. This species’ numbers remain stable today and it is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
The Bushy-tailed woodrat is one of the major food items for northern spotted owls, a species which is in jeopardy because of range reductions due to logging.
Fun facts for kids
- “Packrat” is another name for the Bushy-tailed woodrat, which likes to steal shiny objects to place in its den of sticks, vegetation, and bones.
- Bushy-tailed woodrats are also called “traderats” because they tend to drop the thing they are carrying to pick up something else.
- These animals get all the water they need from their food, so it is not necessary for them to drink.
- The young of a Bushy-tailed woodrat can be called a 'kitten,” “pup” or “pinkie”. The males are called “buck” and the females “doe”. A group of bushytailed woodrats is known as a “colony,”, “pack,” “plague” or “swarm”.
- The Bushy-tailed woodrat is important to humans for a number of reasons. They are important for paleontologists and paleoclimatologists because their middens serve to preserve plant macrofossils that are easily dated, and also because they incorporate many bones in their middens as. These middens are a primary source of information regarding western United States Pleistocene paleoclimates and paleoecology.