Gambian rat

Cricetomys gambianus

SUBFAMILY

Cricetomyinae

TAXONOMY

Cricetomys gambianus Waterhouse, 1840, River Gambia, Gambia.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: African pouched rat/mouse.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Fairly large: head and body length 9.4-17.7 in (240-450 mm); tail 14.3-18.1 in (365-460 mm); weight, males 6.1 lb (2.8 kg) and females 3 lb (1.4 kg). The fur is short and ranges from coarse to soft. They are generally dark or grayish brown with red tinges on their upperparts and creamy on the underparts. Their large ears and long, scaly tail are hairless and the tail is completely white for the last half of its length. There is a dark ring around each eye, making them appear masked. Some individuals are mottled with darker colors or may have an indistinct white line running across their shoulders. The head and face are long and narrow and the eyes are relatively small. They have cheek pouches into which they stuff food, bedding material, and found objects such as pebbles and metal trash, which they take back to their burrows. The incisors are ungrooved.

DISTRIBUTION

Found in appropriate habitat from Senegal and Sierra Leone in the west to Sudan and Uganda in the east and as far south as Zambia, Angola, and northern South Africa.

HABITAT

Prefer forests, thickets, and forest edge habitats, and are sometimes found in grasslands.

BEHAVIOR

Mainly nocturnal, though they are sometimes observed during daylight hours. Their relatively small eyes and their behavior during the daytime suggest that they rely mainly on their senses of smell and hearing. They can dig their own, simple burrows, consisting of long passageways with side chambers for bedding and storage; however, they also use the burrows of other animals, termite mounds, or natural crevices such as rock crevices or hollow trees. Burrows usually have several openings that are camouflaged by dense vegetation. Burrow entrances are often plugged with vegetation from the inside. They can climb well and swim, and appear to be mainly solitary.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Omnivorous, eating all kinds of plant and animal matter, including insects, fruits, seeds, nuts, roots, leaves, snails, and crabs. They prefer palm fruits and kernels.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeding can occur throughout the year, depending on the nutritional status of females. In a captive study, a female had five litters in one year and it was estimated that as many as 10 litters per year could be produced. Gestation lasts from 27-36 days; an average of four young (with a range of 1-5) is born per litter. Young develop quickly and become sexually mature as early as 20 weeks old. One individual in captivity lived almost eight years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Although common in some areas, they are less common in others. In South Africa, they are classified as Rare.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Often sold in the pet trade, Gambian rats were banned from import into the United States in 2003 in an effort to prevent the spread of monkeypox virus infection. They are also hunted as food by native peoples. ♦

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