Pack Rat


Continuing  the denizens of the night theme from yesterday:

A frequent sight in our area, particularly in areas of dense cover or shrubs, is the large conical pile of sticks and miscellaneous debris that form the nest of the pack rat (Neotoma fuscipes). Although their homes are obvious, it is extremely unusual to see the pack rats themselves. Almost entirely nocturnal, it is rare to find this rodent afield during the day. Like other creatures of the night only its home, tracks and scat reveal its presence.

The pack rat, also called a trade rat, woodrat or a dusky footed woodrat, is found to an altitude of about 4,600 feet. Several native Neotoma species can be found throughout the United States, but are much less common in the East. They build their homes against tree trunks, in cactus or mesquite, crevices in rock cliffs or up in trees, particularly oaks.  Around here N. fuscipes nests are most frequently built against the trunks of junipers.

A pack rat may have more than one house connected by a burrow or in near proximity to each other. The house varies in composition depending on what materials are available. Each house has nesting, resting, food and treasure storage areas and it may also have a “latrine” area. If there is not an area for waste in the house there is one outside. Except during the mating season pack rats are solitary although there may be several dozen dens near each other. A nest may last many years after being abandoned and often mice will take over unused pack rat homes.

A pack rat will usually only forage in about a 100′ radius around its home. Their diet can consist of nuts, fruits, foliage including bark and fungi – whatever is available nearby. Those living under the junipers most certainly eat juniper berries.

The pack rat is known for having an accumulation of odd objects in its nest – spoons, tin cans, bones, coins – anything that catches its eye, particularly something shiny or colorful. Sometimes pack rats will carry something into a camp, tent or cabin and exchange it for a utensil or other item. The reason for this hoarding is unknown.

These two packrat nests are on our property (Modoc County CA). One is against the trunk of a juniper tree. The other is built about three feet off of the ground atop a large juniper branch that fell. The green branches incorporated into the structure indicate that the nests are fairly new. Fresh packrat tracks in the snow confirm that both nests are in use.

Indeed, there is much activity at night that we never see!

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9 Responses to Pack Rat

  1. I just looked it up, they are called “middens”. “A pack rat midden is a debris pile constructed by a woodrat. A midden may preserve the materials incorporated into it for up to 50,000 years, thus may be analyzed to reconstruct their original environment, and comparisons between middens allow a record of vegetative and climate change to be built.”-Wiki

  2. What do they eat? Do they bother you in any way?

    • gingkochris says:

      Pack rats eat various nuts, fruits, berries, foliage and bark – whatever is available. Leonard and I do not have problems with the pack rats near our house, however, pack rats will sometimes build nests in friend’s vehicles (engine compartment and elsewhere) and chew on the electrical systems.

  3. Thanks, I found one a few weeks ago and was wondering what made it. Your photo definitely shows the same style.

  4. Pingback: Winter Larder | The Nature Niche

  5. usermattw says:

    Ah, a creature after my own heart. :-)

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