The Wood Rat

The wood rat is a rodent that is famous in the North American West because of its unusual habits. It has a compelling desire to collect unusual objects and keep them in their little museum. In their house you may find such things as nails, bits of tin, colored glass, china, rags, bleached bones and skulls, eyeglasses, and false teeth. Closely associated with its acquisitive instinct is the wood rat’s habit of exchanging articles. In rifling the pockets of the sleeping person, the wood rat will leave behind a few nuts or a pine cone. On one occasion, according to an odd tale, the wood rat left some gold nuggets on the table in exchange for some trivial trinkets. By following the animals trail, the prospector found his fortune in a rich gold bearing vein.

Although the wood rat is most numerous along the backbone of the Rocky Mountain region, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and from Nicaragua northward to the Hudson Bay and Great Lakes regions. It inhabits cliffs, caves, open woodland, in open regions. The wood rat is a homebody and takes great pains with its castle. On the Pacific coast, the house, or commonly known as the castle, maybe five or 6 feet high and have one or two rooms. In general, it’s a global affair of sticks and grasses built in a cavity among the rocks. Or the house could be situated in a hollow tree, a tall tree, or in a cactus. The inside of the house is lined with soft shredded bark or grass. Since the nest is a permanent home, the animal enlarges and improves the house from time to time.

Like the squirrel, the wood rat hordes large quantities of seeds, green, and nuts in the autumn season for food during the winter. This food is often laid up in a store room. A most avid housekeeper, the wood rat has a place for everything, including the regular garbage dump for refuse. While wood rats are sociable in the sense that they live in colonies, they do not visit one another’s homes though they are well known to visit one another on community trails. Active mostly by night, these rodents feed on vegetation, which includes leaves and other food of this nature. Some greens are put on rocks to dry and cure or before being taken home to the storehouse. A number of wood rats drink considerable water, but others that live out in the desert have little use for it. The wood rats in the desert get their liquid from the cactus or succulent root tubers. The wood rat breeds once or twice during the year.

The male gets restless in January and makes nightly trips beyond the usual home territory, in search of a mate. Sometimes he travels half a mile or so. Having found a likely make, he proceeds with caution. Even though he may be acceptable to the female, she will not be won over without considerable sparring. Her temper may break out at any moment and over persistent suitor may get a split year were wounded tail for his trouble. However, successfully mated couple of wood rats will remain together longer than most rodents during courtship. The male rat may be tolerated in the home even after the young are born. They come, two to six of them, about four weeks after the meeting, and each weighs about 1/2 ounce. After three weeks of age, they begin to forage for themselves. The mother takes good care of them, and may allow them to stay with her when they can already find their own food.

While the wood rat is not credited with unusual vocal powers, it will thump on the ground with both hind feet when alarmed. Or it will also vibrate the tip of its tail rapidly up and down. When it cries out, the noise will carry a considerable distance. This probably serves as a danger signal. Like any rat, when seized by an owl or other foe, it will give out a desperate yell. Occasionally, during the mating season, it has been heard to make load chirps. The wood rat of North America is the most attractive of the wood rats. These rats have deep, soft fur, and they are more like squirrels than rats. The large ones weigh up to one pound or more and measure nine inches in length. Such a rat will stand about three inches at the shoulder. All told, there are about 28 species of wood rats in North America and Mexico.

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