Tylomyinaevesper rats and climbing rats


Tylomyinae, vesper rats and climbing rats, is an arboreal New World cricetid subfamily with ten species in four genera: Nyctomys, Otonyctomys, Ototylomys, and Tylomys). The four genera are divided between two tribes. (Musser and Carleton, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

Geographic Range

Tylomyines are distributed throughout Central America, from southern Mexico to Panama. (Nowak, 1999)


Tylomyines live in tropical evergreen and semideciduous forests, especially those in rocky areas, at elevations from sea level to 2,000 meters. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982; Nowak, 1999)

Physical Description

Tylomyines are medium to large-sized muroid rodents, ranging from 95 to 255 mm in length, with tails measuring 85 to 250 mm. Their tails are usually a bit longer than their bodies. They weigh 29 to 280 grams and, in some species, males are slightly heavier than females. Other species exhibit no detectable sexual dimorphism. The fur is either short or long, and is cinnamon, buff, tawny, gray, russet, or brown above and white below. The tail is either covered with long hairs and tufted at the tip, or it is nearly naked. The ears are nearly naked, and can be either short or long. There are long black whiskers, and some species have a dark ring around each eye. The eyes are quite large and the hind feet are modified for climbing. Tylomyines have two pairs of mammae in the inguinal region.

Tylomyines have brachydont, cuspidate molars, with the major cusps lying opposite one another. The cheek teeth bear well-developed mesolophs and mesolophids. The second upper molar has four roots, and the third lower molar is relatively large and has a crown pattern like that of the second lower molar.

Tylomyines have a cuneate interorbital region, with prominant supraorbital shelves that continue posteriorly as pronounced temporal ridges. The interparietal bone is large and contacts the squamosal, to which the tegmen tympani are united. The zygomatic plates are narrow and there is usually no dorsal notch. There is an alisphenoid strut, but no subsquamosal fenestra, and the postglenoid foramen is quite small. The mesopterygoid fossa is usually completely ossified, and the parapterygoid fossa is shallow and slender. If there are sphenopalatine vacuities, they are present as tiny slits.

The first rib of tylomyines attaches to only the first thoracic vertebra. There is an entepicondylar foramen in the humerus. The calcaneum has a wide, proximally-positioned trochlear process.

The tylomyine stomach is single-chambered, and there is no gall bladder. The caecum is long and complex. The glans penis is wide and short (though it is longer than the baculum), and it has large, well-spaced spines. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger


The mating system of tylomyines has not been studied in the wild. Captive Nyctomys sumichrasti form monogamous pairs and share some of the responsibilities of rearing young. Individuals of this species emit regular, high-pitched chirps to locate mates, and males have been seen courting females by chirping at them for a few minutes before copulation. (Hunt, et al., 2004)

Tylomyines reproduce year round. Females are polyestrus, producing several litters per year, and experience a postpartum estrus. In some species, implantation may be delayed if a female becomes pregnant while nursing a litter. Gestation periods, if implantation is not delayed, last 30 to 69 days. Litter sizes average two to three, with a range of one to four. Young are relatively precocial. They are born partially furred and with partially erupted incisors. Their ears open in one or two days and their eyes open at 6 to 18 days. The young cling to their mothers' nipples until they are three or four weeks old and leave the nest shortly afterwards. Tylomyines reach sexual maturity at one to three months of age, with females maturing more rapidly than males. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982; Nowak, 1999)

Female tylomyines construct nests where they rear their relatively precocial offspring. Young cling to their mothers' nipples for the first few weeks of life but may be left behind in their nests when their mothers go out to forage. If their nests are disturbed, mothers drag their offspring with them to safer locations. Females also rush at attackers and try to bite. Nyctomys sumichrasti males help build nests and remain near their mates and offspring for about a week after parturition. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Captive tylomyines have been recorded living up to five years and five months. Lifespan in the wild is probably much shorter. (Nowak, 1999)


Tylomyines are almost exclusively arboreal, and their hind feet are modified for climbing. They build nests out of plant fibers and twigs on tree branches or on the ground among rocks. They are nocturnal. These rodents are solitary or live in small family groups, and strangers placed together in an enclosure will fight viciously. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Tylomyines have large eyes and probably have good vision. They can be seen twitching their ears and vibrissae back and forth when investigating new objects. They make a variety of trills, squeaks, chirps, and grunts to communicate with one another during courtship, copulation, aggressive encounters, and while raising young. Young tylomyines are often very vocal, and they chirp when their nest is disturbed or when playing with littermates. (Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

These rodents are primarily herbivorous; they consume seeds, fruits, and leaves. Occasionally they eat moths. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999)


Tylomyines are preyed upon by owls and snakes. They bite viciously, especially if disturbed with young. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982)

Ecosystem Roles

Tylomyines are, for the most part, primary consumers, and they are food for secondary consumers such as snakes and owls. In addition, tylomyines are parasitized by laelapid and trombiculid mites, argasid ticks, ceratophyllid fleas, and female sandflies. Tylomyines are susceptible to infestations of Trypanosoma cruzi.

Sympatric tylomyine species are potential competitors with each other, but they may avoid competition by foraging at different levels in the forest. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of tylomyines on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Tylomyines are resevoirs for cutaneous leishmaniasis (Leishmania mexicana). Also, they sometimes enter buildings and make their nests in unwelcome places. (Hunt, et al., 2004; Lawlor, 1982)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • household pest

Conservation Status

There are currently four tylomyine species on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Two of those species are critically endangered (Chiapan climbing rats, Tylomys bullaris, and Tumbala climbing rats, Tylomys tumbalensis), one is vulnerable (Panamanian climbing rats, Tylomys panamensis), and one is lower risk (fulvous-bellied climbing rats, Tylomys fulviventer). (IUCN, 2004)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison Poor (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


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


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


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

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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