Bushy-tailed woodrats can be identified by their large, rounded ears, and their long, bushy tails. They are usually brown, peppered with black hairs above with a white underside and feet.The undersides of the feet are furred. The top coloration may vary from buff to almost black. The tail is squirrel-like; bushy, and flattened from base to tip. These woodrats are good climbers and have sharp claws. They use their long tails for balance while climbing and jumping, and for added warmth. These rodents are sexually dimorphic, with the average male about 50% larger than the average female. Adult length: 11" to 18" (30 cm - 46 cm), half of which is tail. Weight: Up to 1.3 lb (600g). The bushy-tailed woodrat is the largest and most cold-tolerant species of woodrat.
Males establish dominance in their territories, through scent marking and physical confrontations. Fights consist largely of biting and scratching, and may result in serious injury. Breeding occurs in spring and summer (May through August), with a gestation period of approximately 5 weeks. A female may have 1 or 2 litters each year. Litters can range in size from 2 to 6, with a typical litter size of 3. The females have only four mammary glands, so larger litters most likely have higher attrition rates. Females have been observed breeding as soon as twelve hours after giving birth, and may be pregnant with one litter while nursing another. Gestation period in captivity is 27-32 days. Newborns weigh approximately 15 g. Eyes open at around 15 days old, and weaning occurs at 26-30 days. Males leave the mother at 2 1/2 months. Females often stay in the same area as the mother, with an overlapping range. This is a clear exception to their territorial natures, and this relationship is not currently well understood. The daughters may share food caches with the mother, increasing their likelihood of survival, and the higher female density of the area may also help attract males. Females breed for the first time when they are yearlings
The bushy-tailed woodrat prefers green vegetation (leaves, needles, shoots), but it will also consume twigs, fruits, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and some animal matter. One study in southeastern Idaho found grass, cactus, vetch, sage, and mustard in the diet, as well as a few arthropods. In drier habitats, they will concentrate on succulents. These rodents get all their water from their food, and they do not need to drink.
Bushy-tailed woodrats are active throughout the year. While primarily nocturnal, they can occasionally be seen during the day. They are usually solitary and very territorial. These woodrats collect debris in natural crevices, and abandoned man-made structures when available, into large, quasi-structures for which the archaeologists' term 'midden' has been borrowed. Middens consist of plant material, feces, and other materials which are solidified with crystallized urine. Woodrat urine contains large amounts of dissolved calcium carbonate and calcium oxalates due to the high oxalate content of many of the succulent plants upon which these animals feed. An important distinction to make is between middens and nests. Nests are the area where the animal is often found and where the females raise their young. Nests are usually within the midden, but there are regional variations to this rule. When not contained within the midden, the nest is usually concealed in a rocky crevice behind a barricade of sticks. In coniferous forests, the woodrat may build its house as high as 50 feet (15 m) up a tree. Bushy-tailed woodrats do not hibernate. They build several food caches, which they utilize during the winter months. The bushy-tailed woodrat engages in hindfoot-drumming when alarmed. It will also drum when undisturbed, producing a slow, tapping sound.
Bushy-tailed woodrats are preyed upon by many predators, including: spotted owls, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, weasels, martens, and hawks. Interestingly, the sheltered conditions offered by the midden are often utilised by reptiles during the colder months. The rattlesnake, normally a predator of the wood rat in the warmer months, is a common lodger.
Bushy-tailed woodrats occupy a wide range of habitats, from boreal woodlands to deserts. Their preferred habitat is in and around rocky places, so they are often found along cliffs, canyons, talus slopes, and open rocky fields. They readily adapt to abandoned buildings and mines. They can be found from sea level up to 14,000 feet (4300 m), but they become increasingly restricted to higher elevations toward the southern end of their range. These woodrats do not do as well in old-growth forests. They are found with greater frequently and in higher densities in more open habitats.
Bushy-tailed woodrats are found in western North America, ranging from arctic Canada down to northern Arizona and New Mexico, and as far east as the western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska.
Distribution in British Columbia
This species is found throughout mainland British Columbia, and is absent from the coastal islands. It is found from sea level up to 2380 m.
Thirteen subspecies of the Bushy-tailed Woodrat are recognized. Three are found in BC: 1) Neotoma cinerea cinerea (extreme southeastern BC), 2) Neotoma cinerea drummondii (easern BC from the Kootenays to the Yukon border, 3) Neotoma cinerea occidentalisS (central and western mainland BC) .
This species can live up to 3 years, with an average lifespan of 1 year. Dens are constructed from branches and other vegetation, and are usually wedged into crevices or under cliff overhangs.
Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2012. E-Fauna BC:
Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab
for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed:
5/21/2013 1:02:38 AM]
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