On the Trail - Woodrats

Southern Plains Woodrat at Sibley Nature Center by Susan Ensenat May

Published May 8th 2015 in Wildlife, Animals, Woodrat

The most common species of woodrat in Midland and Sibley Nature Center is the southern plains woodrat (Neotoma micropus). It is large, steel gray-colored rat with large ears and a relatively short, thick, lightly-haired tail. The throat, underbelly and feet are white, and the tail is bi-colored with blackish fur on the top.

Southern plains woodrats prefer semi-arid brushland, low valleys and plains. The semi-arid, mesquite rich habitat at Sibley Nature Center is perfect for them. They eat seeds, beans and pods from mesquite trees, acorns, prickly pear cactus fruit, and will also strip bark and leaves from trees. Figure 1 and Figure 2 (above) are pictures of a woodrat in a tree around Sibley Pond taken on August 28, 2015. It was observed stripping and eating leaves from the tree.

Woodrats use twigs, joints of cactus and mesquite thorns to construct their houses. Houses look like a loosely consolidated collection of sticks and other debris and usually have two or more entrances low to the ground or tunneling under. The houses can extend up into trees and there may also be a burrow underneath. Woodrats are also known as "packrats" due to their habit of choosing shiny objects such as aluminum foil or pieces of plastic or trash to add to their house. Figure 3 and Figure 4 (above) show woodrat "middens" or houses built near Sibley Pond and along the trail.

Figure 5 (above) shows a burrow hole from a midden with fresh small oval scat pellets at the low burrow entrance.

Woodrats are mostly nocturnal and very good climbers. Many trees at Sibley Nature Center show evidence of woodrats stripping the bark relatively high up indicating bark as part of their diet and demonstrating their climbing ability. Figure 6 (above) shows a tree with stripped bark from woodrat activity.

Middens and woodrat activity can be observed throughout Sibley Nature Center. Look for fresh scat, young branches or thorns, plastic bottles or bright trash in the middens and tracks as evidence of recent woodrat activity. Figure 7 (above) shows a woodrat track on loose sand near the entrance of a burrow hole.


Mammals of Texas-Online Edition

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management

Hawkings, Brandon. 2011. Assessing the Impacts of Anthropogenic Influence of Noetoma microps across a Wildland-Urban Interface. Thesis. University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

Schmidly, David J. 1977. The Mammals of Trans-Pecos Texas. Texas A&M University Press. College Station and London.