is known for its short, stocky body and exceptionally long tail. The tail can be between 15 to 20 cm long. Eastern woodrats have long, soft fur which tends to be a brownish-gray on the back. The fur is darker dorsally and the underside and feet are white. The tail is bicolored; dark brown on the top and white on the bottom. There is a noted seasonal change in pelage color. In winter the dorsal pelage is dark brown to grayish and the sides tend to have a yellowish color. This fades around March to become a more uniform brown color during the rest of the year. The eyes are large, black and tend to appear bulging.
Newborn woodrats have folded pinnae and closed eyes. Birth weight is about 11 to 14 g and length is 87 to 96 mm. The ears unfold at around 9 days and the eyes open in 15 to 21 days. The first molt occurs at 5 to 6 weeks and the second molt follows immediately after the first.
Mating relationships are first determined by establishing dominance. If the male establishes dominance then most likely the pairing will result in offspring. If the female becomes dominant then the male is often killed during fighting. When a successful mating pair is established, the male will follow the female around drumming his hind feet and sniffing the perineal area of the female. If the female is receptive, she will assume a position ideal for copulation. If copulation does not happen immediately, the female will start to pursue the male. She follows him around until copulation occurs. Once breeding is complete, the pair does not associate further and males are likely to try and make other attempts at breeding. (Asdell, 1964; Wiley, 1980)
Breeding season is typically from February to August, although there are some instances of year-round breeding. The gestation period is 31 to 36 days. When young are born they are cleaned then immediately attach to a teat. Young remain attached to one of their mother's teats until they are 3 to 4 weeks old. The litter size ranges from 1 to 6, with 2 and 4 being most common. Females born early in the year may breed as early as their first summer, males begin to breed in the year after their birth. (Asdell, 1964; Golley, et al., 1975; Asdell, 1964; Golley, et al., 1975; Wiley, 1980)
Females are responsible for all parental care. Young are born in an altricial state, with their eyes and ears closed. After young are born, females defend the nest and nurse the young for 3 to 4 weeks. They remain attached to her teats until they are weaned and then disperse at from 70 to 90 days old. The caching behavior of the mother has also been shown to influence future caching behavior in offspring. (Wiley, 1980; Post, et al., 1998; Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats have been reported living up to 8.6 years. Most eastern woodrat mortality, however, occurs in the first year of life. (Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats, like other woodrats are best known for building large dens, or "middens," out of sticks. These dens can be found in a variety of locations including rock outcrops, brush piles, bases of large trees, briar patches, or in abandoned human structures. These dens are used for shelter from the elements, nesting, food storage, and defense. Eastern woodrats will use any available resource to construct a midden. Middens can contain bones, rocks, and dung as building materials. An eastern woodrat will stay in such their midden temporarily or for life. Only one eastern woodrat will inhabit a midden at any time, with the exception of females and their young, but middens will be used by many woodrats over generations and each new woodrat continues to build on the midden. In this way woodrat middens can grow to heights of 5 feet. Teeth marks within the bones found in houses suggest that the woodrats use them to sharpen their teeth.
Eastern woodrats are aggressive towards other woodrats. Battles are usually accomplished through jabs with the head and front feet. Fighting is rarely limited to a particular sex, but when a female is involved she is most often the aggressor. They are primarily nocturnal, although some activity may occur during late afternoon. Eastern woodrats spend most of the day sleeping. They are capable of running rapidly and are decent climbers. (Palmer, 1957; Webster, et al., 1985; Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats stay fairly close to their constructed middens and limit foraging to about 21 m from them. Home ranges are altered as a result of increased sexual activity, voluntary wandering, and preference to a type of food not located immediately within the occupied home range. The home range of adult males tends to be larger than adult females. The average home range for an adult male is estimated at 0.26 ha, with 0.17 ha being average for an adult female. Some overlap in home ranges has been observed along with intolerance to other individuals. Thus, there typically tends to be a buffer area between home ranges. (McMurry, et al., 1993; Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats only squeal during fights or if injured. Typically, noises are made by grinding teeth or thumping the hind feet. The thumping usually occurs as a result of anger or fear. They have a highly developed sense of smell and their hearing is also extremely good. The vibrissae located at the front of the face are used for tactile sensing and help rats navigate in the dark. (Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats are known for their foraging and caching habits. They store fruits, seeds, and leaves in their large middens to eat during the winter. They also include many non-food items in midden collections, such as jewelry, paper wads, bottle caps, and other shiny objects, which they seem to be curious about. In one study, Martin et al. (1951) reported that 5 to 10% of their diet was made up of oak (Quercus) acorns. Two to five percent of the diet is made up of greenbrier (Smilax species), goldenrod (Solidago), and prickly pear (Opuntia). Sumac (Rhus), mesquite (Prosopis), and walnut (Juglans), each constituted 0.5% of the diet. Insects are reported as making up a very small portion of the diet as well. (Martin, et al., 1951; Martin, et al., 1951; Palmer, 1957)
The most common predators of eastern woodrats are great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), black snakes (Elaphe species), and timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). Eastern woodrats avoid predation by being mostly active at night, taking refuge in their large dens, and being vigilant for predator activity. They are also cryptically colored. (Webster, et al., 1985; Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats are known for their large middens, which may become valuable habitat to other animals. They are prey for raptors, large snakes, and mammalian predators, and they influence plant communities through their seed predation and caching. Common parasites of this species include: warble flies (Cuterebra species), ticks (Ixodes species), mites (Eutrombicula species), fleas (Orchopeas species), chiggers (Trombicula species), and nematodes (Longistriata species). (Wiley, 1980)
Eastern woodrats have no known economic value.
When eastern woodrats live near farms they are often considered pests. These woodrats, however, do very little economic harm to crops. (Nowak, 1999)
While Neotoma floridana illinoensis has been considered a species of special concern and is monitored by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Neotoma floridana floridana is considered threatened by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. Neotoma floridana smalli (Key Largo woodrats) is listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. According to McCleery et al. (2006), the decline in the population is due to habitat fragmentation and degradation, parasites, and predation by feral cats. Key Largo woodrats are isolated on the island of Key Largo, Florida. Almost half of the species' original home range has been lost since the early 1970s. There are approximately 850 ha of suitable land left on the island, most of which is found within two protected areas: Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. (McCleery, et al., 2006; Mengak and Laerm, 2007; Nowak, 1999)is considered secure globally, there are a few subspecies in certain regions that are of concern.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Brandi Guilliams (author), Radford University, Karen Francl (editor, instructor), Radford University.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
having more than one female as a mate at one time
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
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Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World Vol. 2, Sixth Ed.. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Post, D., M. McDonald, O. Reichman. 1998. Influence of Maternal Diet and Perishability on Caching and Consumption Behavior of Juvenile Eastern Woodrats. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 79, No. 1: 156-162.
Webster, W., J. Parnell, W. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
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