Yes you read that correctly… Australia -does- have native rats. While Rattus rattus (Roof Rat) and Rattus norvegicus (Norway rat) are the ones most people know about, they are -not- native Australian rats. They were introduced to Australia and are considered feral pests. Many of Australia’s native rats are on the endangered list which is a crying shame. The introduction of non-aboriginal humans and other non-native animals has reduced some of these species to nearly extinct.
If you are interested in helping to save some of our native rats, you can do so by “adopting” native rat species through an organisation called Australian Wildlife Adventure. I have adopted the Greater Sticknest Rat.
Brush Tailed Rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus): Found in Northern and North-West Australia and in New Guinea, they are believed to be in decline in numbers. They forage on the ground during the night and nest in trees in the daytime. They eat plant material and small insects.
Common Water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster): Found in mainland Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. This rat is also known as the Rakali (Aboriginal term). These rats’ habitats include fresh water environments, estuaries, and offshore islands. They have broad noses that are somewhat flat, high set eyes, small and high set ears that they can fold when they dive underwater, water-repellant fur, partially webbed hind feet, and a darkly furred tail that tapers to a white tipped end. They are also very streamlined for easy swimming. Their fur colour ranges from almost black to slate grey or brown on top, and white to orange on their tummy. Rakali build burrows in riverbanks and and hollow logs. They are semi-nocturnal and eat yabbies, crabs, fish, eels, shellfish and large aquatic insects.
False Water rat (Xeromys myoides): Found in Northern and North-East Australia. This rat has short, silky fur that is dark grey to brown and spotted with flecks of white on the back, and white on the tummy. It has short rounded ears, and very small eyes. They are nocturnal and eat insects, fish, crabs, lizards and some vegetable matter. These rats inhabit freshwater areas such as lakes and lagoons adjacent to coastal areas.
Greater Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus conditor): Found only in only very restricted areas (such as Franklin Island in South Australia), these rats are the rarest of all rodents on earth. On the mainland they are only to be found within the bounds of a feral-proof fence and are being bred in captivity to try and re-establish their population on mainland Australia. These rats are herbivorous only and they build communal nests out of sticks which are constructed around bushes. The inside of the nest is lined with grass etc. This rat has become so rare because of introduced stock such as cattle and sheep. By the middle of the 19th century, they had disappeared from every area that the grazing animals had been introduced to. They used to be found all across Australia before this time.
Broad-toothed Rat (Mastacomys fuscus): Found in a very small area – The north-western corner of East Gippsland in Victoria. This species is fairly sparsely situated, being one that has come under attack from feral species and habitat loss etc. They have broad molar teeth which lends them their name. Their coat colour is light to dark brown and they have a broad rounded head and a short tail. This is a nocturnal species, and they feed on grasses, leaves, seeds and bark. They nest in constructions made of finely shredded grass. They have an average litter size of 1 to 3 babies and breed only about 2 times a year, so their population cannot sustain itself in the face of habitat loss and predation.
Black-footed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii): Found in Northern Australia. This rat inhabits tropical rainforest and nests in tree hollows during the day. It eats fruits, seeds and flowers. It is grey with black feet and has a grey tail with white bushy tip. This species is thought to be rare and endangered.
Golden-backed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys macrurus): Found in Northern and North-West Australia. Bright rufous or brown with white hands and feet and a tail with a white bushy tip. It nests in trees during the day but can descend to the ground during the night to feed. It eats large seeds, nuts and some insects. This species is thought to be rare and endangered. Prehensile-tailed Rat (Pogonomys mollipilosus): Found in several parts of New Guinea and was recently found to be inhabiting the Cape York Peninsula in Northern Queensland. Colour ranges from grey and brown right through to almost black. As the name suggests, this rat has a prehensile tail. It’s paws are ideally suited to climbing, being short and broad with well developed claws. They are nocturnal and inhabit forests. They are only partly tree-dwelling, foraging on the ground and resting in underground burrows. They eat the leaves and shoots of grass and bamboo.
- Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes)
- Cape York Rat (Rattus leucopus)
- Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus): Found in Eastern and South Eastern Austrlia, and Tasmania.
- Canefield Rat (Rattus sordidus)
- Pale Field-rat (Rattus tunneyi)
- Long-haired Rat (Rattus villosissimus)
- Dusky Rat (Rattus colletti): Found in the floodplains of the Northern territory.
- White-tailed Rat (Uromys caudimaculatus): Found in North Queensland and the Cape York Peninsula. This is one of Australia’s largest rodents. It is nocturnal and eats fruits, seeds, fungi, small reptiles, insects, amphibians, bird eggs and bark. This species sleeps in tree hollows, and in burrows under logs and creek banks. It is grey/brown with a cream underside, and has a long naked tail with a white tip.
- Masked White-tailed Rat (Uromys hadrourus)
- Common Rock-rat (Zyzomys argurus): Found all over Australia.
- Kimberley Rock-rat (Zyzomys woodwardi)
- Central Rock-rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus): Found in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, although any recent evidence of this species has only been found in the West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory. These rats prefer to live in rocky, arid regions and eat a variety of grass seeds, grasses and shrubs. This rat is believed to be nocturnal. Not much more is known about this elusive species because their population is so sparse.
- Carpenterian Rock-rat (Zyzomys palatalis): Found all over Australia.
- Arnhem Land Rock-rat (Zyzomys maini)