Native rats reap the rewards of another bumper wet season

Posted on Posted in Central Australia, furry

Having recently worked in western Queensland, I can fully appreciate the far-reaching impacts of two generous wet seasons in a row… the landscape is truly rejoicing.

The western QLD countryside enjoying the effects of two bumper wet seasons

Sweeping flourishes of green from renewed growth, splashes of brown, yellow and red where flood waters have washed away the dust and revealed new, fresh earth – and potholes the size of 44 gallon drums! And, of course, the wildlife has gone nuts!

Plains are dotted with fat kangaroos and emu chicks, skies are crowded with soaring raptors, waterholes are teeming with fish, and at night-time the land is crawling with rats.

Many species of native rat have responded to these exceptional conditions, including the common Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes), and lesser known species of Water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster) and Long-haired rat or Plague Rat (Rattus villossissimus).

The native Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes). Photo courtesy of Museum Victoria

Bush rats are approaching plague proportions in some regions and are causing issues for a few locals – although some are more serious than others

The Long-haired rat population is burgeoning so much that they’ve been tracked spreading westwards from Longreach to Birdsville and across to Alice Springs – where their last population boom dates back to 1970!

Like many other Australian mammals, native rats have evolved to take advantage of these ideal conditions. Long-haired rats can produce 12 young every three weeks in a good season; that’s one of the highest reproductive capacities of any Australian rodent! Thanks to the recent rains and the abundant selection of insects, fresh juicy roots and dense sprouting vegetation, there’s enough food and shelter for everyone.

The Long-haired Rat (Rattus villosimus). Photo courtesy of DERM QLD

But, the nutritious green growth, the delicious insectivorous smorgasbord and the waterholes brimming with life will inevitably disappear and when they do so will the rats. So what are the advantages of creating a population boom?

Well, firstly, rats play a vital role in food webs, helping to control other booming critters such as bugs, beetles and crustaceans. On the flipside, the rats themselves are a critical food source for owls, raptors and reptiles.

Population booms also assist our rats to disperse, giving them an extra boost to help compete with introduced species such as the Black rat (Rattus rattus) and the Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). Natural selection ensures only the fittest native rats will survive the ‘bust’ phase, and help shape stronger future generations.

If you’re not sure whether to hurl or help the rats in your neighbourhood (or pantry, or bedside table) check out this simple guide. Happy rat spotting!!!

3 thoughts on “Native rats reap the rewards of another bumper wet season

  1. We have found a few long haired rats in our farm in Miriam Vale, 80km south of Gladstone. They love our vegie patch, particularly beans, peas and pumpkin seeds and seedlings. We thought we got them all, but this week I noticed they must be back as my new bean seedlings are gone!

  2. While we were camped on the Georgina River at Cammoweal last week we had a rat visit us. It as very quiet and we did nothing to disturb it,however on the second night there we were sitting around the fire and he came and sat on my foot.I felt something warm on myfoot,looked down and saw the rat,did the squealing act and kicking the legs in the air which didn’t worry the rat much,he only moved about six feet away.He looked like your native rat,his tail was thicker than a domestic rat and banded.

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