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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Eastern Woodrat
Order Rodentia : Family Muridae : Neotoma floridana (Ord)

Eastern Woodrat (Neotoma floridana).  Photo by John L. Tveten.Description. Large rat with long, round, tapering, scantily haired tail, large ears, and bulging, black eyes. Upperparts creamy buff to buffy gray, clearest along sides; underparts and feet white; tail distinctly bicolor, white below and brownish above. External measurements average: total length, 369 mm; tail, 160 mm; hind foot, 40 mm. Weight, 200-350 g.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Eastern one-third of Texas west to Wichita, Bell, and Edwards counties; south to Victoria County.

Habits. The wide range occupied by the eastern woodrat, encompassing habitats ranging from swamplands along the lower Mississippi River, through forested uplands, to the arid plains of eastern Colorado, is reflected in its geographic variation and in the correlated differences in habits. In the mixed hammock and river bottom associations in eastern Texas, these rats do not construct surface nests but rather, live in burrows at the bases of trees. In the upland post oak association in east-central Texas, they normally use underground burrows but occasionally resort to a combination surface house and underground burrow or a large surface house built at the base of a tree or against a fallen log with no associated burrow. In central Texas (Kerr County) they frequently live in rocky canyon walls.

In localities where underground dens are the fashion, the rats do not hesitate to take over burrows dug by other and larger animals. In one such den in Brazos County the large nest, located about a meter from the entrance, was composed of dried broom sedge grasses, leaves, and small twigs.

The diet of eastern woodrats consists almost exclusively of vegetable matter which provides both food and water. In east-central Texas they feed on acorns, yaupon berries, and the leaves of oaks, yaupon, French mulberry, green briar, peppervine, rattan, and hackberry. Many of these items were garnered by the rats well above ground, which indicates that most of their foraging is done in the crowns of the trees and shrubs.

The breeding season extends from January to September in Texas. Litter size ranges from one to five (average, two) and up to three litters may be produced annually. The gestation period is about 33 days. Newborn woodrats are blind, deaf, naked, and weigh only 15 g. The eyes open at about 15 days of age, and weaning takes place around the twentieth day. Woodrats do not reach adult size until they are about 8-9 months of age, and most females do not breed until they are about 1 year old.

The home range is rather limited; the animals usually stay close to the home den. Studies suggest that 85 m is an exceptional distance for them to travel in their foraging activities. Also, they are more or less colonial to the extent that several rats will establish themselves in a relatively restricted locality. In one instance 35 to 50 rats lived in a 180 m distance along a favorable gully.

Since these rats usually inhabit wooded or brushy lands, they seldom come into close contact with man and conflict but little, if at all, with his economy. They are preyed upon by owls, skunks, foxes, and other flesh-eaters.

Photo credit: John L. Tveten.