Pack rat

From Academic Kids

Pack rats
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Rodentia
Superfamily:Muroidea
Family:Cricetidae
Subfamily:Neotominae
Genus:Neotoma
Species

see text

A pack rat, also called a trade rat or wood rat, generally referrs to the North American Woodrat (Neotoma cinema), but other species of Neotoma also fall into the category. They are prevalent in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Pack rats are a bit smaller than a typical rat and have long, bushy tails.

Pack rats build complex nests of twigs, called "middens", often incorporating cactus. Nests are often built in small caves, but frequently also in the attics and walls of houses. Some Neotoma species, such as the White-throated Woodrat (N. albigula), use the base of a prickly pear or cholla cactus as the site for their home, utilizing the cactus' spines for protection from predators. Others, like the Desert Woodrat (N. lepida) will appropriate the burrows of ground squirrels or Kangaroo rats and fortify the entrance with sticks and bits of spiny cactus stems fallen from Jumping and Teddy-bear Chollas.

In houses, pack rats are active nocturnally, searching for food and nest material. A peculiar characteristic is that if they find something they want, they will drop what they are currently carrying, for example a piece of cactus, and "trade" it for the new item. They are particularly fond of shiny objects, leading to tales of rats swapping jewelry for a stone.

Historically, houses in or near ghost towns such as Crestone, Colorado were typically infested with pack rats. In the days before television, this provided a measure of entertainment to the sensation-starved residents.

Some species of pack rats were called "prairie flounders" by settlers. This might have occurred because the eyes of pack rats are set somewhat higher in the head than other rodents.

The term pack rat is also used in English as slang to refer to a person who collects miscellaneous items and has trouble getting rid of them.

Some other species

  • N. stephensi
  • N. micropus
  • N. mexicana
  • N. devia

External links

  • Packrats (http://www.desertusa.com/mag99/apr/papr/packrats.html)
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