Neotoma magisterAllegheny woodrat

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Geographic Range

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. (Anthony, 1928; Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Schwartz and Odum, 1957)

Habitat

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. (Balcom and Yahner, 1996; Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2002a; Castleberry, et al., 2006)

  • Range elevation
    640 (low) m
    2099.74 (low) ft

Physical Description

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. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Kays and Wilson, 2002; Linzey, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    203 to 444 g
    7.15 to 15.65 oz
  • Range length
    311 to 451 mm
    12.24 to 17.76 in

Reproduction

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. (Poole, 1940)

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. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998; Manjerovic, et al., 2009; Mengak, 2002; Poole, 1940)

  • 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

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. (Poole, 1940)

  • 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

Lifespan/Longevity

The expected lifespan of Allegheny woodrats in the wild is 49 to 58 months. In captivity, their lifespan is about 48 months. (Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    49 to 58 months
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    48 (high) months

Behavior

Allegheny woodrats are nocturnal and solitary. They are known for their habit of collecting shiny and colorful objects, including anthropogenic items such as china and spoons. They also collect raccoon feces, which can include eggs from the parasite Baylisascaris procyonis. This parasite and other members of the same genus can infect and kill the woodrats. When Allegheny woodrats take something for their collection, they occasionally leave something behind, like a pine cone, pebble, or nut. Allegheny woodrats also cache food items. Caches are made with sticks instead of the fibrous materials they use for their nests. Allegheny woodrats are surprisingly clean creatures, only defecating in one area away from the nest. Defecation sites are usually located in an area with ample airflow on a flat rock or a rock with a concave indentation. (Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998; Poole, 1940)

  • Average territory size
    2060 m^2

Home Range

Allegheny woodrats are solitary animals, and they do not aggressively defend a territory. However, their homing mechanism is strong; they have been known to return to their nest when relocated up to 403 m away. Because their food sources are located only in certain areas and are therefore depleted quickly, members of this species may travel from 180 to 6,500 sq m each day. On average, Allegheny woodrats travel 2,060 sq m daily. (Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998)

Communication and Perception

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. (Poole, 1940; Zervanos and Davis, 1968)

Food Habits

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. (Castleberry, et al., 2002b; Mengak and Laerm, 2008; Poole, 1940)

  • 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

Predation

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. (Linzey, 1998; Poole, 1940)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

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. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Linzey, 1998; Parker, et al., 2009; Poole, 1940)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Allegheny woodrats are not known to have any positive impact on humans. (Whitaker Jr. and Hamilton Jr., 1998)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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. (Poole, 1940)

Conservation Status

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. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006)

Contributors

Lindsey Stanesa (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

mycophage

an animal that mainly eats fungus

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Anthony, H. 1928. Field Book of North American Mammals. New York: The Knickerbocker Press.

Balcom, B., R. Yahner. 1996. Microhabitat and Landscape Characteristicts Assosiated with the Threatened Allegheny Woodrat. Conservation Biology, 10/2: 515-525.

Castleberry, S., W. Ford, N. Castleberry, P. Wood. 2002. Summer Microhabitat Selection by Foraging Allegheny Woodrats (Neotoma magister) in a Managed Forest. American Midland Naturalist, 147/1: 93-101.

Castleberry, S., J. Laerm. 2008. Allegheny Woodrat Neotoma magister. Journal of Mammalogy, 89/4: 306-309.

Castleberry, S., M. Mengak, N. Castleberry, W. Ford, P. Wood. 2002. Allegheny Woodrat (Neotoma magister) Food Habits in the Central Appalations. American Midland Naturalist, 147/1: 80-92.

Castleberry, S., M. Mengak, W. Ford. 2006. Neotoma magister. Mammalian Species, 789: 1-5.

Hamilton, W. 1943. Mammals of Eastern United States. New York: Comstock Publishing Company.

Kays, R., D. Wilson. 2002. Mammals of North America. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kinlaw, A. 1995. Spilogale putorius. Mammalian Species, 511: 1-7.

Linzey, D. 1998. The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia: The Mcdonald and Woodward Publishing Company.

Manjerovic, M., P. Wood, J. Edwards. 2009. Mast and Weather Influnces on Population Trends of a Species of Concern: the Allegheny Woodrat. The American Midland Naturalist: An International Journal of Ecology, Evolution and Environment, 162/1: 52-61.

Mengak, M. 2002. Reproduction, Juvinile Growth and Recapture Rates of Allegheny Woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Virginia. American Midland Naturalist, 148/1: 155-162.

Mengak, M., J. Laerm. 2008. Eastern Woodrat Neotoma floridana. Journal of Mammalogy, 89/4: 301-305.

Parker, W., R. Gerhardt, L. Muller, N. Caldwell, S. Castleberry, W. Ford. 2009. External Parasites of Neotoma magister Baird (Allegheny Woodrat) in the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau, Tennessee. Southeastern Naturalist, 8/1: 167-174.

Poole, E. 1940. A Life History Sketch of the Allegheny Woodrat. Journal of Mammalogy, 21/3: 249-270.

Schwartz, A., E. Odum. 1957. The Woodrats of Eastern United States. Journal of Mammalogy, 38/2: 197-206.

Sheffield, S., H. Thomas. 1997. Mustela frenata. Mammalian Species, 570: 1-9.

Whitaker Jr., J., W. Hamilton Jr.. 1998. Mammles of the Eastern United States. Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publihing Associates.

Zervanos, S., D. Davis. 1968. Perception of Red Light by Woodrats (Neotoma floridana). Journal of Mammalogy, 49/4: 759.