Leporillus conditor (Stuart, 1848), New South Wales, Australia. OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Stick nest rat, Australian stick nest rat, house-building rat, Franklin Island stick-nest rat, Franklin Island house-building rat; French: Leporilles; German: Zweignestratten.
Body length 6.7-10.2 in (17-26 cm); tail 5.7-7 in (14.5-18 cm); weight (180-450 g). It has large eyes and large ears, which are round and dark. Its tail has hair, with longer bristles at the end. Covered in soft fur that is light gray or white below and yellowish brown or gray on top.
Originally distributed throughout southern Australia, from the Shark Bay vicinity to western New South Wales. It was also found in Franklin Island and northwestern Victoria. Currently, due to declining numbers, it is found naturally occurring only on the East and West Franklin Islands. Captive-bred individuals have been successfully reintroduced on other islands, as well as only a few fenced-in areas in the original distribution range.
Inhabit arid regions with little or no fresh water. They use regional twigs and shrubs to build enormous nests that can reach over a 3.2 ft (1 m) high.
The nocturnal rodents are sometimes known to build giant, towering nests called "wurlies" from sticks, twigs, and plant
stalks. They usually use a preexisting shrub, and sometimes, large rocks, to scaffold the nest; they proceed to weave sticks around the framing shrub. They occasionally incorporate stones into the nest, which serve to anchor it against winds, and they line the center with grasses. Up to 20 rats can live in the largest nests, which are filled with tunnels leading from the nest center to its outside. Younger generations inherit the nests and the task of tending to them. In fact, the nests have been shared with bandicoots, snakes, penguins, and shearwaters. Further, they are known to be docile and do not bite humans when handled. However, the social animals live in groups and display aggression towards unknown greater sticknest rats.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Completely vegetarian, feeding on leaves and fruits and succulents for hydration.
When conditions are optimal, the animals can breed anytime of the year. Gestation lasts for about six weeks, litters consist of only several young weaned after a few months, and they reproduce only two or three times annually, making their reproductive rates far less than more successful murine rodents like black rats.
Recently upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable due to recovery efforts; its relative, the lesser stick-nest rat, is assumed to be Extinct.
None, but theirs numbers have disappeared in part because of humans. Introduced animals like sheep have overgrazed and subsequently destroyed much of their preferred shrubland habitat. Scientists have been trying to repopulate various offshore Australian islands with the rats after having eradicated feral cats and other pests that could prey on the animals. Over the past few years, a successful breeding program in captivity has produced a large number of rats used to repopulate Australia, and the total greater stick-nest rat population has increased fivefold to over 5,000 individuals. ♦
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