Hispid Cotton Rat

Hispid Cotton Rat

Cotton rat, Javelina rat

Sigmodon hispidus
Population size
Life Span
6 mos-5 yrs
100-225 g
224-365 mm

The Hispid cotton rat is common and widespread across southern, central and eastern parts of the United States. Currently, the population and range of this species continuously enlarge. This rodent has a sturdy built and extremely small cheek pouches. The grizzled coat of the animal is blackish or grayish in color, covered in stiff black guard hairs. The Hispid cotton rat is identified by its high “Roman” nose and a javelina-like color pattern, due to which the rodent is occasionally called the “javelina rat”.


The Hispid cotton rats are widespread across South America, Central America, and southern North America. Population in the US occupies a huge territory from the southeastern tip of California, southern Arizona and New Mexico northwards to eastern Colorado, eastwards through the southern parts of Kansas and Missouri to Tennessee and North Carolina as well as southwards the Atlantic coast to Florida and the Gulf states, reaching the Rio Grande Valley. The preferred habitat of this species is grassy fields and overgrown roadsides, providing dense vegetative cover. They also favor fencerow areas adjacent to agricultural fields. Other habitats, where these animals can be found, include meadows, marshy areas, cactus patches and weedy ditch banks.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

The Hispid cotton rats may be active at any time of the day and throughout the year. The period of increased activity is late afternoon to midnight. These rodents are generally solitary animals that socialize only when breeding. During this period, older males are usually more successful than younger ones. In addition, these animals associate with conspecifics by huddling together during the cooler months in order to conserve heat. The Hispid cotton rats are highly territorial towards other rodent species, fiercely defending their territories from these intruders. They either build nests out of dry grass and fibers, stripped from larger plants, or use dens, abandoned by skunks, squirrels and other larger mammals. These rodents are known to make route systems, consisting of runways that are 7.5 - 10 cm in width. They excavate 2.5 - 5 cm-wide tunnels, located about 2.5 - 10 cm under the surface of the ground. There is few data on communication habits of this species, but they are believed to rely on well-developed senses of smell and hearing, like many other mammals.

Diet and Nutrition

These rodents are folivores, granivores and lignivores simultaneously. Hence, they feed upon roots, stems, sugarcane, herbs, fruits, berries, nuts, leaves and seeds of different plants, supplementing this diet with occasional insects, crayfish, fiddler crabs as well as eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. Hispid cotton rats can also consume carrion.

Mating Habits

in temperate parts of the range: during the summer, in tropical areas: year-round
27 days
5-7 pups
3 weeks
pup, pinkie, kit

Currently, there is few data on the reproductive system of Hispid cotton rats. However, it is suggested that they appear to be polygynous because of gender differences in home range sizes. Each individual has its own defined territory. Meanwhile, home ranges of males are considerably larger than these of females. Populations in temperate parts of their range usually breed during the summer, whereas those in tropical areas breed throughout the year. Gestation period lasts for 27 days, yielding 5 - 7 young per single litter. Females of this species are able to produce 3 - 4 litter per year. The newborn babies are very tiny, 76 mm in length, and weigh 6.5 grams. Weaning occurs at 3 weeks old. The young may be ready to breed within the first 35 - 40 days of their lives, but usually begin breeding after 2 months old, reaching maturity only by 5 months of age.


Population threats

There are no major threats to Hispid cotton rats at present.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Hispid cotton rat is very abundant and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers are increasing.

Ecological niche

On one hand, the Hispid cotton rats are major agricultural pests in some parts of their range: when hungry, a single group of these rodents is able to destruct up to 90% of crops such as sugarcane, squash, rice, cotton, melon and sweet potato. On the other hand, these animals are a key prey species for larger predators of the area, including foxes, dogs, coyotes, weasels, raccoons, minks, domestic cats, bobcats, hawks, and snakes. According to some researchers, due to being so abundant and widespread, the Hispid cotton rats form a link between predators and game animals.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Males of this species are known as 'bucks', females are called 'does', whereas the offspring is referred to as a 'kitten, nestling, pinkie or pup'. A group of the hispid cotton rats is known as a 'colony, horde, pack, plague or swarm'.
  • This rodent is called "hispid rat" due to the fur on its back, consisting of creamy, brown and black colored hairs that closely resemble bristly fur.
  • Rats are known to be very attentive to their group members, taking care of injured and sick individuals.
  • When living solitarily, these rodents become lonely and depressed.
  • Rats are known for having good memory. These animals are able to learn a route and remember it throughout their lives.
  • These animals display happiness by vibrating their eyes as well as chattering and grinding their teeth.
  • When playing, rats typically give out cheerful laughter-like sounds.


1. Hispid Cotton Rat Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispid_cotton_rat
2. Hispid Cotton Rat on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/20213/0

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