Tree rat

Thallomys paedulcus

TAXONOMY

Mus paedulcus (Sundevall, 1846), interior of Kaffirland, South Africa.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Acacia rat.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Body length 4.7-6.4 in (12-16.3 cm); tail 5.1-8.2 in (13-21 cm); weight 2.2-3.5 oz (63-100 g). Has long fur that ranges from soft to coarse. Its coloring ranges from yellowish gray to gray to fawn on its upper parts, it has a brown tail, grayish or white feet and hands, red-tinted, nearly hairless ears, and a white belly. As a rule, tree rats have tails roughly 140% the length of their bodies. They have hind feet with strong claws and a well-developed fifth digit, which enables it to climb trees well.

DISTRIBUTION

Found in Africa, between western Somalia, southern Ethiopia, Angola, and South Africa.

HABITAT

Also known as the acacia rat, it makes its home in the acacia tree. It sometimes builds messy nests from twigs and grass in forks or in branches, and the nests are very obvious during winter, when the trees lose their leaves. On occasion, however, it will live in holes, beneath loose bark, and inside of hollow trunks. It uses the plant's thorns as protection from predators and can sometimes be found up to 13 ft (4 m) aboveground.

BEHAVIOR

Shy animals, and will rarely leave their shelters. They are known to weather major storms in their nests, even during floods. Sometimes, however, they will be forced to make their

way back up the tree to home. Navigation is aided by scent markings, which they lay on branches. They are expert climbers and live in communities, usually in some sort of family arrangement, with a pair of adults and their offspring and other descendents.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Forage in their acacia trees, and are nocturnal. They eat acacia seeds and leaflets, but if necessary will eat insects and meat. They are able to survive without water.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Does not breed during the African winter, from April-July, which coincides with the lack of water during that time. When the rainy season hits, the females will produce litters of 2-5 young, however, and can breed about every 3.5 months. Observed climbing trees with their young attached to their nipples.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

An unsuitable lab rat because it does not breed well, and it is capable of spreading plague and other diseases. It is often infested with the stick tight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea) as well as Xemonpsylla brasiliensis. It also harbors ticks and mites. ♦

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