Oh, Rats

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Rats are the most adaptive, resilient, fertile, and common small mammals. Unlike western civilizations who consider the rat a pest, the rat in eastern cultures represents good fortune. In traditional Chinese literature, the rat is a symbol for wealth, intelligence, success, and wisdom. Not surprisingly, rats are all of the above.

There are many species of rat found in Florida, both native species and invasive ones. The hispid cotton rat is a native species whose range includes the southern United States to central America and northern South America. They are one of the most common small mammals in the southeastern United States.

Hispid cotton rats differentiate themselves from other rats, such as the Norwegian rat, in that hispid cotton rats primarily dwell in agricultural settings while Norwegian rats commonly inhabit human settlements and living spaces. They reside in fields of tall grass or tall crop fields where they can hide from predators. They rely on their well-developed senses of smell and hearing to navigate their extensive trails that connect to their nesting areas. As folivores, granivores, and lignivores, the hispid cotton rat forages roots, stems, herbs, fruit, berries, nuts, leaves, and seeds. These rats are a key prey species for larger predators living in the area.

Hispid cotton rats that live in tropical areas, like Florida, breed throughout the year. A female can yield five to seven young in a litter and produce three to four litters a year. Their young are weaned from their mother’s milk after three weeks and are then on their own. The average lifespan in the wild can range from six months to three years, but only about 13 percent live beyond six months as they are a vital prey source for many predators.

Recently, a very young hispid cotton rat was admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) after being found alone, likely an orphaned individual. Upon intake, the rat weighed just nine grams and was found to be thin and dehydrated, but otherwise apparently healthy. Rehabilitation staff started with providing six milk feeds a day, but it has since been weaned down due to quick and successful growth. Since then, the young patient has gained nine grams and will be ready for release once at a healthy weight of 30 grams.

Earth’s ecosystems are complex structures that require proper participation from all beings, even rats, to remain in good health and able to support life. Beyond their functionality as an important food source, they are ecologically beneficial in ways that are somewhat overlooked, such as dispersing seeds of plants they consume. Western cultures might not be ready to hail rats as symbols of good fortune, but maybe, at least, these creatures can be recognized and respected for their ecological contributions.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (12/30/2020-01/05/2021):
There were 49 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including eight eastern cottontails, three Virginia opossums, a peninsula cooter, an anhinga, a softshell turtle, a turkey vulture, an osprey and a sandwich tern. Recent Releases include seven northern raccoons, three double-crested cormorants, two red-shouldered hawks, a Mexican free-tailed bat, and a white pelican. 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 http://www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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