Packrats and Traders Friday December 2, 2016
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Packrats and Traders

What do human packrats, traders, and woodrats have in common?

Big-eared Woodrat – aka Packrat

Big-eared Woodrat – aka Packrat

Big-eared Woodrats AKA Packrats and Traderats

You’ve heard the term “packrat” used to describe a neighbor, a family member, maybe even yourself … yep, I see you raising your hand, albeit slowly. …

It’s ok, no one is judging, I’m raising mine too. I admit, I’m a bit of a packrat myself. You just never know when that piece of shiny ribbon will come in handy.

I bet you have special places for such things, a drawer, a box; this way you know exactly where they are when it comes time to use them.

You argue, “I might need it someday, or ‘member the time I threw such-and-such out just to find I needed it two weeks later?”

As a nature guide, when I come upon a mound of sticks, I’ll stop and ask if anyone knows where the term “packrat” came from and most people will say they don’t.

I then tell them about California’s Big-eared Woodrat, formally known as the Dusky-footed Woodrat, aka “packrat” or “trader” and why some of us share her name.

A Woodrat by a Any Other Name is Still a Packrat

Big-eared woodrat immortalized in bronze – Mission Trails Regional Park

Big-eared woodrat immortalized in bronze – Mission Trails Regional Park

But before I tell you all about Ms. Packrat, the taxonomy regarding California woodrats needs to be addressed.

Many articles online lump two woodrat species together – The Dusky-footed and the Big-eared.

In recent years, the Big-eared woodrat has been elevated from Neotoma fuscipes (Dusky-footed) to Neotoma macrotis (Big-eared), following the discovery of genetic differences between the two groups.

Glad we cleared that up!

Whether you’re dusky-footed or big-eared, if you collect things, and there is very little surface space in your home because of all your treasures, you’re probably a packrat.

The good news is, when being compared to a woodrat, you can boast about being organized.

Big-eared woodrats are considered great architects. Notice the spider web on the left sharing the woodrat’s home.

Big-eared woodrats are considered great architects. Notice the spider web on the left sharing the woodrat’s home.

The above mound of sticks is a female Big-eared woodrat’s nest.

The above mound of sticks is a female Big-eared woodrat’s nest.

Good Housekeeping

Big-eared woodrats care very much for their homes and utilize each room to maximize space by keeping their treasures in one room for display, a room for storing food such as seeds, acorns, and plants; another as sleeping quarters (lined with soft grass, of course), and even space for a visiting lizard or two.

Any relieving of the self is done outdoors – no poop on the woodrat’s stoop, she’s too clean!

Big-eared woodrats are noctural and forage for leaves, plants, and seeds during the night. If they come across anything shiny or cool-looking, they will carry it back to their nests for display.However, should something else catch their attention, they will “trade” what they have in their paws and take the new treasure back instead.

Territory range of the Big-eared woodrat.

Territory range of the Big-eared woodrat.

Parenting Woodrats

It is the female packrat who makes the nest of sticks. After mating, the male woodrat often makes a smaller nest nearby to help care for the young.

Ms. Packrat has a litter of just 2-4 pups she carries on her back and then keeps tabs on them for about a year.

In the wild, Big-eared woodrats can live anywhere from 1.5 to 4 years.

At night, they tend to crawl on fallen branches to avoid crunching leaf litter that can alert predators, such as owls, of their presence.

Keeping Pests Away

Ms. Packrat understands the importance of keeping her home free from pests too.

While the occasional spider will show up, it’s the parasites and mites she’s most concerned with.

Big-eared woodrats actually line their nests with bits of leaves from the bay laurel tree to ward off ticks and mites.

Nibbled leaves of the California Bay Laurel are used to line Ms. Packrat's pantry.

Nibbled leaves of the California Bay Laurel are used to line Ms. Packrat’s pantry.

Good Grooming – Clean Rats?

Besides being organized, female packrats are quite clean, fastidiously grooming themselves by licking their fur, similar to how cats perform their own ablutions.

No scaly rat tail for the woodrat; Big-eared woodrats do have long tails but with short fur on them. Their bodies are about 10 inches long, well-rounded, and with the tail, they’re about 16 inches in length.

Big-eared Woodrat Characteristics

Ms. Packrat’s big ears are probably her best feature.

Character-wise, it’s her organization, the appreciation of artful things, the architecturally sound home –

and the caring for her young, that makes the packrat who she is.

Now, it’s not so bad being called a “packrat,” is it?
Carlsbad Lagoon and other reserves provide ample areas for woodrats to nest.

Carlsbad Lagoon and other reserves provide ample areas for woodrats to nest.

Are woodrats ever pests? Visit our page: Woodrats

Article and Artwork by Donna Walker

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