Allegheny wood rats

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The wild rat of Appalachia is strangely disappearing—but the plague provided hope.

Allegheny woodrat life style read more..

Monday, 14th June 2021

On a foggy morning in western Maryland's Allegheny Mountains, biologist Dan Feller holds a hairy rodent in his hands, ready to release it. He says, "Get your camera ready." “Though. With a shrug, he says, "It'll probably come back and gaze at us."

The brownish-gray creature leaps onto a rock and vanishes. Then, just as Feller said, it reappears on a nearby crag, patiently watching us. Given that Feller had only minutes previously gently trapped the animal and branded its ear, this behavior is astounding.

The Allegheny woodrat is a unique rodent found in the Appalachian Mountains and sections of the Midwest. The species is naturally interested and docile around humans, a trait not shared by most other mammals in the eastern United States.

Gretchen Fowles, a scientist with New Jersey's Endangered and Nongame Species Program, describes them as "very charismatic and easygoing." They're frequently found sitting comfortably and peacefully in a study trap, she explains, looking unperturbed.

The hairy-tailed rat, which weighs one pound, is also interesting for another reason: its population is rapidly and mysteriously declining. The species is locally extinct in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and is listed as endangered or threatened throughout much of its range, especially in the north. In just four decades, Pennsylvania has lost 75 percent of its woodrat population, with only one community remaining in New Jersey.

Maryland's woodrat population has decreased by more than 65 percent since the 1990s, according to Feller of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He has trapped hundreds of woodrats over the last three decades, but now he is lucky to catch a dozen in a single year, indicating a troubling trend.

Scientists are baffled as to why the large-eyed species is vanishing, despite the fact that it uses its long, sensitive whiskers to navigate through its dark caves and caverns. It's most likely a mixture of circumstances, including the American chestnut blight in the 1900s, which wiped away a main food supply; and Baylisacaris procyonis, sometimes known as raccoon roundworm, a fast-spreading parasite.

Pack rats have strange habits.

The Allegheny is one of the largest and rarest of the 12 woodrat species found in the United States. It is not a prolific breeder like other rodents; females produce an average of two pups per litter, only two or three times per year.

Scurrying through caverns, rocks, and rocky outcrops along mountain ridges, these creatures prefer higher heights. Woodrats are beneficial to their ecology because they disseminate seeds and offer food for a variety of larger creatures, including bobcats, coyotes, owls, and snakes.

Also Read: A year without tourism spells disaster for Thailand's captive elephants.

While most woodrats live in solitary colonies, protecting their territories, many others dwell in colonies close to one another.

Alleghany woodrats are collectors who gather natural materials for their nests as members of the pack rat family. Aside from shredded bark and other organics, these materials can contain human artefacts like candy wrappers, beautiful tableware, and even a headless Barbie doll, according to Feller. Nobody knows why the animals acquire human artefacts, but it's probably because they're curious.

The News Talkie Bureau


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