Hispid Cotton Rat, Florida’s Native Rat

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

A Hispid Cotton Rat was admitted to CROW on March 7, after being found orphaned in Fort Myers. The rat was found not eating or drinking and was offered a mash (soft food) diet. The patient will continue to be monitored under supportive care.

Hispid cotton rats have an extensive habitat range throughout the world, including South America up through central America and Mexico and into North America as far north as Nebraska. These animals prefer grassy fields, bushy pastures, canal banks, roadsides, and edges of cultivate fields. Their fur pattern consists of a mixture of tan, brown, and black fur on their dorsal parts, giving them a “hispid” (coarse) appearance. Their life span is quite short, averaging 6 months in the wild, and females commonly reproduce three to four times a year and have between five and seven offspring.

Hispid Cotton Rats provide an important food source to a myriad of different animals, such as foxes, dogs, coyotes, weasels, raccoons, minks, bobcats, hawks, and snakes.

Nonnative rodents can be a potentially destructive force in Florida, especially with regards to taking away necessary resources (such as food and habitats) away from the native species that belong here. Native rodents in Florida include the Hispid Cotton Rat, Sanibel Island rice rat (found only on Sanibel Island), the Sherman’s short-tailed shrew, the Florida salt marsh vole, and the rice rat. Nonnative species include the Gambian Pouched rat, the Capybara, the House Mouse, the Nutria, the Norway rat, the Black rat, and the Mexican red-bellied squirrel. Many species of small mammals become nonnative and invasive species in new areas due to the pet trade or coming across in shipping vessels with goods. Programs can be established within the state’s fish and wildlife committee to try and eradicate the invasive species to allow growth of the native population, although rodents are often difficult to mitigate due to their fast growth and reproduction rates.

Animals can be abandoned or orphaned for several reasons, but commonly the parent (usually mother) is found dead due to predation, being hit by a car, or other sustained injuries. When this occurs, volunteers or civilians can bring orphaned babies into CROW. At this point, staff can supplement the babies’ diets to ensure they are efficiently developing with hopes of eventual release back into the wild. The ultimate goal is to treat the patients in order to them to be able to fend for themselves once released. Kidnapping and abduction can also occur when well-meaning humans mistakenly bring in babies that are not in danger or orphaned; this can occur because the humans did not wait to see if the mother would return or felt that the babies were in some sort of unknown danger.

Although misunderstood, rats do play a role in the ecosystem by supplying a critical food source for many reptiles, birds of prey, and other mammals. Rodents that build their nests beneath the ground can supply other species with habitat space once abandoned, and they can help clean urban streets of trash since they are opportunistic scavengers and will even eat carcasses and carrion. At CROW, no animal is too small or insignificant; staff members will treat any native rodent species in hopes of release.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (2/18-2/25):
There were 63 new patients admitted to CROW this week, including a black race, a boat-tailed grackle, a brown pelican, a brown thrasher, a cattle egret, a double-crested cormorant, 15 eastern cottontails, 4 eastern gray squirrels, 3 eastern screech owls, 2 north American river otter, and an osprey. Recent releases include a black racer, an eastern cottontail, a brown pelican, a brown thrasher, a gopher tortoise, and a white ibis. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year. Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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