Status: Not Listed
Dusky-footed woodrats are small, cinnamon- to gray-colored rodents with long whiskers, rounded ears, and furry tails. The furred tail helps to distinguish them from non-native black rats. The name “dusky-footed” refers to their dark-colored feet. Dusky-footed woodrats average about 16 inches in length. This measurement includes their long tails, which account for nearly half their body length.
Dusky-footed woodrats in the United States are found in California and western Oregon. Forests of coast live oak and native willow trees with thick underbrush and cover are the ideal homes for dusky-footed woodrats. These rodents are known for building stick houses that reach up to five feet in height and eight feet in diameter. Terrestrial houses are built around logs or near trees in areas that are shaded and cool. Dusky-footed woodrats are known to line their nests with nibbled-on leaves of the California bay laurel. It’s thought that these leaves have fumigating properties that clear nests of parasites such as ticks and mites. The abandoned homes of dusky-footed woodrats provide habitat for a number of other species. Predators of dusky-footed woodrats include owls, hawks, bobcats, and coyotes.
These voracious rodents eat fungi and many kinds of plant materials, including seeds, fruits, greens, and inner bark. They are nocturnal and retrieve food at night, sometimes bringing it back to the nest for storage.
Woodrats use their tails as a warning sign to predators. A male woodrat also uses its tail to indicate he wants to fight with another male. The woodrat beats his tail on the ground while opening and closing his mouth.
Dusky-footed woodrats are generally solitary, but their home territories tend to overlap. They live in a matriarchal social system where females choose mates. After mating, males retreat to tree nests constructed in cavities or branches. Females stay in their terrestrial homes to raise one to four offspring. Their exact lifespan is unknown, but other members of the genus typically live fewer than two to three years.
There are 11 subspecies of dusky-footed woodrats. The riparian woodrat is federally listed as endangered.
Members of the genus Neotoma are also called packrats because they have a tendency to hoard things, especially shiny objects left out by humans. Woodrats are also called “trade rats,” because when they come across a new treasure, they’ll drop whatever they’re carrying in order to pick up the new item, effectively trading one token for the other.
Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
California State University
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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