Behavior

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Allegheny woodrats have exceptional senses of hearing, sight, touch, and smell. They have big ears which can capture sounds and detect the direction from which the sound came. Allegheny woodrats have large eyes and can see well even in the dark. A similar species, eastern woodrats (Neotoma floridana), can see red lights that many other animals cannot, and it is likely that Allegheny woodrats can as well. Allegheny woodrats have particularly long whiskers for rodents, and the longest whisker recorded was 9 cm in length. These long whiskers are sensitive to touch and allow woodrats to feel their surroundings. Whiskers help with navigation of caves and crevasses and to detect nearby movement, alerting them to possible danger. During the breeding season, Allegheny woodrats use elongated scent glands along the sides of their stomachs to communicate their location to potential mates. These glands secrete an oily, smelly liquid. Woodrats drag their bodies across the ground to transfer the scent and mark their territory.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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Stanesa, L. 2012. "Neotoma magister" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neotoma_magister.html
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Conservation Status

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Allegheny woodrats are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List. However, risk varies by state. In Kentucky populations are stable, but in Alabama, Virginia, and other states this species is threatened or vulnerable. In North Carolina, this species is now endangered. The extinction of American chestnut and decline in oak trees may have contributed to the decrease in the Allegheny woodrat populations. Habitat destruction has also contributed to decline in populations in some areas.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Benefits

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In captivity, Allegheny woodrats eat a variety of food that is found on farms or in gardens such as apples, cabbage, carrots, celery, grapes, tomatoes, corn, wheat, wild rice stalks, and white potatoes. They may consume these items on agricultural land located in their habitat. Because the population of Allegheny woodrats is small compared to other pests, there is no considerable economic cost to humans, even with potential damage of crops.

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Benefits

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Allegheny woodrats are not known to have any positive impact on humans.

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Associations

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Because of their caching behaviors, Allegheny woodrats disperse spread seeds and spores. This species is host to many different types of fleas (Orchopeas sexdentatus pennsylvanicus and Epitedia cavernicola), mites (Atricholaelaps glasgowi), ticks (Ixodes woodi, Dermacentor variabilis, and Ixodes augustus), roundworms (Baylisascaris procyonis and Baylisascaris proaberrant), and botflies. The main threat for Allegheny woodrats is from the species of nematode Baylisascaris proaberrant, the eggs of which are found in raccoon feces. Allegheny woodrats collect raccoon feces and become infected with this "fatal neurological disease." This parasite appears to threaten the Allegheny woodrat's population more-so than predation.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • nematodes Baylisascaris proaberrant
  • fleas Orchopeas sexdentatus pennsylvanicus
  • fleas Epitedia cavernicola
  • mites Atricholaelaps glasgowi
  • ticks Ixodes woodi
  • ticks Dermacentor variabilis
  • ticks Ixodes augustus
  • roundworms Baylisascaris procyonis
  • roundworms Baylisascaris proaberrant
  • botflies Oestridae
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Stanesa, L. 2012. "Neotoma magister" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Neotoma_magister.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Allegheny woodrats are primarily herbivores and eat a variety plants, berries, fruits, and seeds. They have also been known to consume bats and insects on occasion. Their diet mostly consists of fungus, and, at the peak of mushroom season, fungus can make up more than 12% of their diet. The amount of mushrooms eaten varies from region to region. Acorns are also very important to Allegheny woodrats, because they are high in protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins.

Animal Foods: mammals; insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers; bryophytes; lichens

Other Foods: fungus

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Granivore , Lignivore); mycophage

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Distribution

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Allegheny woodrats, Neotoma magister, live along the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. Since 1928, their distribution has narrowed around this mountain range. Dense populations of Allegheny woodrats can be found on the Allegheny Cumberland Plateau in West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Habitat

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Allegheny woodrats are commonly found on steep rocky cliffs, in which they make their homes, as well as rocky ledges and crevices built into exposed rock above. They are genearlly found above 640 m in elevation, though historical regions place them in piedmont (hilly) regions of lower elevations. Allegheny woodrats also inhabit areas with diverse vegetation.

Range elevation: 640 (low) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains

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Life Expectancy

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The expected lifespan of Allegheny woodrats in the wild is 49 to 58 months. In captivity, their lifespan is about 48 months.

Typical lifespan
Status: wild:
49 to 58 months.

Typical lifespan
Status: captivity:
48 (high) months.

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Morphology

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Allegheny woodrats have soft agouti fur that is brownish-gray to brown on their dorsal side. Their underside, including the throat and feed, is white. Their tail has a noticeable amount of fur, which is bi-colored and blends with the rest of the body. The ventral side of the tail is lighter in color than the dorsal side. Juveniles have gray fur that becomes browner as they mature. Allegheny woodrats also have long whiskers. Adult range from 203 to 444 g in mass and from 311 to 451 mm in length. The head of Allegheny woodrats appears similar to that of a mouse and is not very pointed, due to auditory bullae. Their eye sockets are "depressed" into the skull (Linzey, 1998). Allegheny woodrats are also very similar to eastern woodrats, and the only difference between the two is the presence of the maxillo vomerine notch (skull structure) in Allegheny woodrats.

Range mass: 203 to 444 g.

Range length: 311 to 451 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Associations

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Allegheny woodrats have many predators, many of which are large and nocturnal. Predators include great horned owls, bobcats, striped skunks, gray foxes, eastern spotted skunks, long tailed weasles as well as other snakes and owls. The fur of Allegheny woodrats blends in with the forest floor to help keep them hidden from predators while looking for food.

Known Predators:

  • great horned owls (Bubo virginianus)
  • bobcats (Lynx rufus)
  • striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
  • gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
  • eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius)
  • long tailed weasles (Mustela frenata)
  • snakes (Serpentes)
  • owls (Strigiformes)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Reproduction

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Mating systems of Allegheny woodrats have not been studied in the wild. A captive pair, however, provides some information about their mating behaviors. During courtship, a male and female "box," like kangaroos, which can be violent. They stand on their hind legs and brace themselves with their tail while hitting each other with their front paws. Allegheny woodrats are monogamous for their single mating session, but it is currently unknown if they maintain this monogamy.

Mating System: monogamous

Allegheny woodrats generally breed during the early spring to late summer, from March to October. Some, however, breed year-round due to mild winters and/or an abundance of food within their habitat. Female Allegheny woodrats have 1 to 2 pups in their first litter. After their first season, they average 3 pups per litter, though they can have more than 4. Because the female only has 4 nipples, however, survival of pups in litters of greater than 4 individuals is limited. Allegheny woodrats have 2 to 3 litters a year. The gestation period of Allegheny woodrats is 30 to 36 days. Pups are born blind, deaf, pink, and hairless and weigh between 14 and 17 g (average 15 g). Their incisors are not straight but rather form a diamond shape where the top two meet the bottom two incisors. However, their incisors straighten within 21 days after birth. Weaning begins around 17 days, when offspring may begin to eat solid foods. Weaning ends around 21 days of age when the eyes are fully opened. By 24 days of age, most juveniles can sufficiently sustain themselves but may remain near the nest for a few additional weeks. Juveniles become independent between 28 and 60 days of age. Female Allegheny woodrats are believed to reach sexual maturity around 3 to 4 months of age, and it is unknown if males mature at the same age.

Breeding interval: Allegheny woodrats usuallly have 2 to 3 litters per year.

Breeding season: Mating of Allegheny woodrats usually occurs between March and October, though in some areas breeding can occur year-round.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.

Average number of offspring: 2.8.

Range gestation period: 30 to 36 days.

Range weaning age: 17 to 28 days.

Average weaning age: 21 days.

Range time to independence: 28 to 60 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 4 months.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous

The majority of parental investment of Allegheny woodrats occurs before birth. Females make nests made of fibrous materials such as shredded bark of hemlock, red cedar, basswood, and other trees, as well as rope, yarn, grasses, and occasionally feathers. Nests are constructed similar to bird nests with coarser materials on the outside and softer materials on the inside. Preparation for birth consists of gathering food for the mother and eventually for the offspring once weaned. Both males and females gather food, though the male plays a very small role in the care of offspring. After pups are born, the mother is the primary caretaker, and she remains so until the pups are independent. Pups are born completely dependent on the mother for warmth, food, protection, and sanitation. A female nurses her pups until they are weaned. Juvenile learning is indirect; through consuming food in their mother's cache, juveniles learn what is optimal and safe to consume.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Allegheny woodrat

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The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister), is a species of "pack rat" in the genus Neotoma. Once believed to be a subspecies of the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana), extensive DNA analysis has proven it to be a distinct species.[2]

Description

The Allegheny woodrat is a medium-sized rodent almost indistinguishable from the closely related eastern woodrat, although slightly larger on average, and often with longer whiskers. Adults typically range from 31 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) in total length, including a tail measuring 15 to 21 cm (5.9 to 8.3 in). Males weigh 357 g (12.6 oz) on average, while females are slightly smaller, weighing an average of 337 g (11.9 oz).[3]

It is the second-largest member of the native North American rats, and can weigh up to a pound, roughly the size of an eastern gray squirrel.[4]

The fur is long, soft, and brownish-gray or cinnamon in color, while the undersides and feet are white. They have large eyes, and naked ears. Their most distinguishing feature is their tails: while the tails of European rats are naked with only slightly visible hairs, the tails of woodrats are completely furred with hairs about one-third of an inch long, and predominantly black above and white beneath.

The whiskers are unusually long, typically over 5 cm (2 in) in length. About 50 whiskers are found on each side, consisting of a mixture of stiff black hairs and softer white ones.[3]

Habitat and ecology

Allegheny woodrats prefer rocky outcrops associated with mountain ridges such as cliffs, caves, talus slopes, and even mines. This is mostly true for Pennsylvania and Maryland. In Virginia and West Virginia, woodrats are found on ridges, but also on side slopes in caves and talus (boulders and breakdown) fields. The surrounding forest is usually deciduous.[5] Throughout their range, they are found in mixed pine-oak forest,[6] but they are also found in a range of other forest types, most commonly with a mix of hardwood trees.[3]

Their diets primarily consist of plant materials including buds, leaves, stems, fruits, seeds, acorns, and other nuts. They store their food in caches and eat about 5% of their body weight a day.[7] Predators include owls, skunks, weasels, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, large snakes, and humans. At one point, the Allegheny rat was hunted for food and sometimes killed due to false identification based on its resemblance to more problematic European rats.[8]

Behavior

Nocturnal, Allegheny woodrats spend their nights foraging, collecting food and nesting materials. They are most active during the earlier part of the night, from about a half hour after sunset, and again shortly before dawn. During the summer, males have home ranges of about 6.5 ha (16 acres), and females of about 2.5 ha (6.2 acres).[3] However, these contract dramatically in the late fall and winter, when little fresh food is available, and they rely instead on their caches to survive. At such times, home ranges may shrink to as little as 0.65 ha (1.6 acres).[9]

Individuals are generally aggressive towards each other, especially when competing for nest sites, and, while home ranges may overlap, each actively defends its own den.[10] They are generally quiet animals, but have been reported to make "squeaking" and "whimpering" noises in captivity.[11]

They very rarely travel more than a few hundred feet from their home ranges.[4]

They also collect and store various non-food items such as bottle caps, snail shells, coins, gun cartridges, feathers, and bones. This trait is responsible for the nickname "trade rat" or "pack rat".[7] These rats form small colonies in which their nesting areas consist of a network of underground runways and many conspicuous latrines. Latrines are large fecal piles the rats deposit on protected flat rocks.[5] In some cases, researchers have found dried leaves placed around the nesting area which appear to act as alarms to warn the rats of approaching danger.[8]

In addition to the latrines, Alleghany woodrats of both sexes also scent mark various objects around their home ranges, using a scent gland on their undersides.[12] The gland becomes particularly prominent around the breeding season, and is said to produce a strong odor.[13]

Reproduction

Unlike most other rodents, Allegheny woodrats are not prolific breeders. The breeding season is variable across their range, but is broadly between March and October, and they average two or three litters per year. Gestation lasts 30 to 36 days, and results in the birth of a litter of one to four young (typically two)[13][14]

The young are born hairless and blind, weighing 15 to 17 g (0.53 to 0.60 oz). They become fully furred at two weeks, and open their eyes at three weeks. They live with their mothers in nests composed of grass, bark, and similar materials, often located in relatively inaccessible crevices or ledges.[3][13]

Allegheny woodrats become sexually mature at three to four months of age,[3] and, in the wild, have been known to live up to 58 months.[15]

Distribution and status

Allegheny woodrats are mainly distributed along the Appalachian Mountains. They have historically been found as far north as Connecticut and possibly Massachusetts (where they are now extirpated), southeastern New York (extirpated), northern New Jersey, and northern Pennsylvania southwestward through western Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, northern and western Virginia to northeastern Alabama and northwestern North Carolina with isolated populations north of the Ohio River in southern Ohio (extirpated) and southern Indiana (reintroduced). The Tennessee River is generally accepted as the southern range limit.[16] There are no recognised subspecies. Fossils belonging to the species are known from mid Pleistocene deposits in Maryland and West Virginia.[3]

Although the Allegheny woodrat is not a federally listed threatened or endangered species, it is in major decline and is state listed:[16][17]

Causes and management of decline

 src=
Gypsy moth defoliation of hardwoods along the Allegheny Front near Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania, in July 2007, may be a cause of woodrat population declines.

In parts of their range (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), the Allegheny woodrat population has been in decline over the past 30 years. They have been extirpated from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.

The reasons for the decline are not yet entirely understood, but are believed to involve a combination of factors. The first reason is a parasite, the raccoon roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis, which is almost always fatal to woodrats.[18] Raccoons easily adapt to environmental change, and have thrived in the traditional woodrat habitat, increasing infection by the parasite, which enters woodrats because they eat the plant and seed material in raccoon feces. Another frequently cited cause is near total loss of American chestnuts caused by chestnut blight and of defoliation of oaks by an invasion of gypsy moths (lowering available supplies of acorns for woodrats). Increased competition for acorns with overabundant white-tailed deer, and increasing populations of black bear and turkey may also have a negative impact on woodrat survival. Predation by great horned owls has also been cited. Finally, increased human encroachment causes fragmentation and destruction of the woodrats' habitat.[19]

Indiana's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program currently monitors status, distribution, and population. They are also conducting field searches for new localities and research to identify the factors for decline.[7]

New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife's Endangered and Nongame Species Program supported research by Kathleen LoGiudice. She developed a drug to be distributed through bait that the raccoons would eat, disrupting the growth and shedding of the roundworm parasite for about three weeks, effectively reducing the deposition of roundworm eggs near woodrat nesting sites, therefore reducing the threat of the parasite in woodrats.[20]

Pennsylvania is conducting a three-year study partially funded by a Game Commission State Wildlife Grant and being led by Indiana University of Pennsylvania in an attempt to shed light on the daily and seasonal movements of woodrats, identify high-quality woodrat habitat, and learn whether providing food caches can boost a population. Their work will include radiotelemetry, DNA profiling and mark-recapture trapping.[21]

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has conducted trappings and surveys to study the woodrat's habitat.[22]

Researchers at the University of Georgia have studied Allegheny woodrats in Virginia since 1990. Currently, they are investigating DNA relationships of Allegheny woodrats under a grant from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They are comparing modern DNA to historic DNA from museum specimens as a way to characterize remnant genetic diversity in the species.

References

  1. ^ Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G., Whittaker, J.C. & Norris, S.J.). 2008. Neotoma magister. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T14581A4446084. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T14581A4446084.en. Downloaded on 06 March 2021.
  2. ^ Edwards, C.W.; Bradley, R.D. (2001). "Molecular phylogenetics of the Neotoma floridana species group". Journal of Mammalogy. 82 (3): 791–798. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2001)082<0791:MPOTNF>2.0.CO;2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Castleberry, C.B.; et al. (2006). "Neotoma magister". Mammalian Species. 789: Number 789: pp. 1–5. doi:10.1644/789.1.
  4. ^ a b http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6975.html
  5. ^ a b "Pennsylvania Game Commission"
  6. ^ Castleberry, N.L.; et al. (2002). "Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) food habits in the central Appalachians". American Midland Naturalist. 47 (1): 80–92. doi:10.1674/0003-0031(2002)147[0080:AWNMFH]2.0.CO;2.
  7. ^ a b c "Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife". Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  8. ^ a b " NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation"
  9. ^ Hornsby, B.S.; et al. (2005). "Fall movements of Allegheny woodrats in harvested and intact stands in West Virginia". Northern Journal of Applied Forestry. 22 (4): 281–284. doi:10.1093/njaf/22.4.281.
  10. ^ Kinsey, K.P. (1977). "Agonistic behavior and social organization in a reproductive population of Allegheny woodrats, Neotoma floridana magister". Journal of Mammalogy. 58 (3): 417–419. doi:10.2307/1379342. JSTOR 1379342.
  11. ^ Mengak, M.T.; Zadnik, A.K. (2005). "Behavior of captive Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Virginia" (PDF). Banisteria. 26: 11–14.
  12. ^ Kinsey, K.P. (1976). "Social behaviour in confined populations of the Allegheny woodrat, Neotoma floridana magister". Animal Behaviour. 24 (1): 181–187. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(76)80112-1. S2CID 53155154.
  13. ^ a b c Poole, E.L. (1940). "A life history sketch of the Allegheny woodrat". Journal of Mammalogy. 21 (3): 249–270. doi:10.2307/1374753. JSTOR 1374753.
  14. ^ Mengak, M.T. (2002). "Reproduction, juvenile growth and recapture rates of Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Virginia". American Midland Naturalist. 148 (1): 155–162. doi:10.1674/0003-0031(2002)148[0155:RJGARR]2.0.CO;2.
  15. ^ Mengak, M.T.; et al. (2002). "Longevity record for a wild Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) in West Virginia". Virginia Journal of Science. 53 (3): 167–170.
  16. ^ a b "natureserv"
  17. ^ "Team Woodrat status"
  18. ^ "Allegheny Woodrat in Alabama". Archived from the original on 2007-12-03. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  19. ^ Balcom, Betsie J.; Richard H. Yahner (April 1996). "Microhabitat and Landscape Characteristics Associated with the Threatened Allegheny Woodrat". Conservation Biology. 10 (2): 515–25. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1996.10020515.x. JSTOR 2386866.
  20. ^ "Allegheny Woodrat - New Jersey"
  21. ^ "A Rocky Existence: The Woodrat In Pennsylvania". The Outdoor Wire. 17 July 2007. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  22. ^ "In Pursuit of the Allegheny Woodrat". Archived from the original on 2004-12-18. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
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Allegheny woodrat: Brief Summary

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The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister), is a species of "pack rat" in the genus Neotoma. Once believed to be a subspecies of the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana), extensive DNA analysis has proven it to be a distinct species.

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