Eastern Woodrat


Photo © Bob Gress (www.BirdsInFocus.com)


Photo By George Feldhamer

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Neotoma floridana

OTHER NAME:  Pack rat

DESCRIPTION: Eastern wood rats are relatively large with head and body lengths of 14 to 17 inches; tail length of 6 to 8 inches; hind foot length of 1.4 to 1.8 inches; and weight of 7 to 16 ounces.  Their fur is buffy gray on back and sides, with darker hair in the middle of the back. The head is gray; tail is dark gray above and white below; underparts are white with occasional buffy patches on the breast; and feet are white.  In the southern parts of its range this species has shorter fur and the tail is scant-haired and not bicolor. 

DISTRIBUTION:  The eastern wood rat is found in southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and New York, south through the Allegheny Mountains to Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Central Florida.  It is absent along the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey through central South Carolina and part of east central Georgia.

HABITAT:  Eastern wood rats inhabit rocky cliffs, fissures, or tumbled boulders on the sides of mountains.  Osage orange thickets are preferred habitat in much of Alabama.  In Georgia and Florida, preferred habitat is low wet areas in hammocks and swamps.

FEEDING HABITS:  Eastern wood rats feed on plants, fruits, berries (dogwood, blackberry, mountain ash, and wild cherry), fruits and stalk of pokeweed and sassafras, fungi, ferns, and rhododendron.  In Alabama, the diet consists largely of hickory nuts and paw-paw seeds. 

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  Eastern wood rats are primarily nocturnal species though they may occasionally be abroad on overcast days. They make their homes in hollow trees, holes in the ground, or nests of sticks, leaves, and rubbish constructed along stream banks, in dense tangles of cabbage palmetto or, rarely, in trees.  This species lines its nest with various man-made items, especially shiny objects.  It usually defecates outside of the nest in a common area.  These rodents tend to be aggressive toward one another outside of the breeding season.  Breeding usually begins in early spring and may last into the fall months in the South.  Gestation lasts 30 to 36 days and litter size is usually 1 to 3 animals.  Young are nursed in the nest until about four weeks old.  Individuals have been known to live 33 months in the wild.  When the eastern wood rat is frightened or excited, it will chatter its teeth, vibrate its tail, and thump its hind feet.  They are preyed upon by foxes, weasels, owls, wild cats, and various other predators. 

REFERENCES:

Hamilton, William J. Jr., and Whitaker, John O., Jr. 1979. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Second Edition. Comstock Publishing Associates, a division of Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London. 346 pp.

Wernert, Susan J., editor. 1982. North American Wildlife. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York, Montreal. 559 pp.

AUTHOR: Bruce Todd, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries


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