Allegheny woodrats have soft fur that is brown or brownish-gray on their back. Their underside is white from their throat and all the way back. Their tail has fur too, which is lighter on the bottom. They have long whiskers on their faces. Adults weigh 203 to 444 g and are 311 to 451 mm long. Young Allegheny woodrats have gray fur that becomes browner as they get older. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Kays and Wilson, 2002; Linzey, 1998)
Allegheny woodrats live in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. They are mostly found in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, in an area called the Allegheny Cumberland Plateau. (Anthony, 1928; Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Schwartz and Odum, 1957)
Allegheny woodrats make their home on steep rocky cliffs, rocky ledges, and in crevices between rocks. They usually live above 640 m in elevation, though they used to live at lower elevations than they do now. Allegheny woodrats also live in areas that are thick with plants. They get water when it collects on the ground from the rain and also from nearby streams. (Balcom and Yahner, 1996; Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2002a; Castleberry, et al., 2006)
When courting, males and females box like kangaroos, which can get violent. They stand on their hind legs and brace themselves with their tail while hitting each other with their front paws. Allegheny woodrats have just one mate for the season, but scientists don't know if they keep their mates year-round or not. (Poole, 1940)
Most Allegheny woodrats breed from March to October. If winters are mild or there is lots of food, they may breed year-round. Females have 1 to 2 pups the first year they give birth. After the first year, they have 3 pups each time they give birth, which is 2 to 3 times a year. When they are born, pups are blind and deaf. They have pink skin and no hair. They weigh 14 to 17 g, but usually about 15. The pups drink their mothers milk for 21 days, and aftwerwards are able to open their eyes and eat solid food. At this point, they can feed themselves, but may stay around the nest for a few more weeks. They are independent after 28 to 60 days, and can have their own young when they are 3 to 4 months old. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998; Manjerovic, et al., 2009; Mengak, 2002; Poole, 1940)
Most of the time and effort parents put in to raising the young happens before they are born. Females make nests from tree bark, rope, yarn, grasses, and sometimes feathers. The nests look like birds' nests. The more coarse materials are on the outside and the softer materials are on the inside. Before the young are born, parents gather and store up food for the mother and the pups. Males help gather food, but don't contribute much to caring for the pups. When the pups are born, they are completely dependent on their mother for warmth, food, protection, and cleanliness. When eating food from their mother's store, pups learn what they should eat. (Poole, 1940)
Allegheny woodrats are active at night, and usually spend time by themselves. They have a habit of collecting shiny and colorful objects, including human items such as china dishes and spoons. When taking something for their collection, they occasionally leave something behind, like a pine cone, pebble, or nut. Allegheny woodrats collect food and store it for later, in a spot called a cache. Caches are made out of sticks. Allegheny woodrats are surprisingly clean, and have one specific spot away from the nest for body waste. This spot is usually a place with good air flow like a flat or dented rock. (Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998; Poole, 1940)
Allegheny woodrats don't have a specific territory they defend. In the same day, they travel in an area of 180 to 6,500 sq m looking for food. The average is 2,060 sq m for one day. (Castleberry, et al., 2006; Linzey, 1998)
Allegheny woodrats have outstanding senses of hearing, sight, touch, and smell. They have big ears that can tell what direction a sound came from. Their large eyes help them see well in the dark. Their close relatives eastern woodrats can see red lights that many other animals cannot, and Allegheny woodrats probably can too. They have very long whiskers compared to other rodents. The longest whisker found was 9 cm long. Their whiskers allow them to feel their surroundings and detect movements nearby, so they can sense danger. Whiskers also help them find their way in caves and crevasses. During the breeding season, Allegheny woodrats use long scent glands on the sides of their stomachs to communicate their location to possible mates. The glands give off an oily, smelly liquid, and they drag their bodies across the ground to spread the scent. (Poole, 1940; Zervanos and Davis, 1968)
Allegheny woodrats eat mostly plants like berries, fruits, and seeds. They sometimes eat bats and insects as well. They eat a lot of mushrooms, which can make up 12% of their food. The amount of mushrooms they eat changes by location. They also eat a lot of acorns because they are high in protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. (Castleberry, et al., 2002b; Mengak and Laerm, 2008; Poole, 1940)
Most of the predators of Allegheny woodrats are large and also active at night. Their predators include great horned owls, bobcats, striped skunks, gray foxes, eastern spotted skunks, long tailed weasles and other snakes and owls. Allegheny woodrats' fur blends in with the forest floor, which hides them from predators while they are out looking for food. (Linzey, 1998; Poole, 1940)
Because Allegheny woodrats store food, they spread seeds and mushroom spores. They are hosts to many types of fleas, including Orchopeas sexdentatus pennsylvanicus and Epitedia cavernicola, mites, ticks such as Ixodes woodi, Dermacentor variabilis, and Ixodes augustus, roundworms called Baylisascaris procyonis and Baylisascaris proaberrant, and botflies. Their biggest threat is nematodes, whose eggs are found in raccoon feces. Allegheny woodrats collect raccoon feces and become infected with this disease, which they can die from. These parasites are more likely to kill them off in large numbers than predators are. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Linzey, 1998; Parker, et al., 2009; Poole, 1940)
In captivity, Allegheny woodrats eat many foods that are found on farms and in gardens. For example, they eat apples, cabbage, carrots, celery, grapes, tomatoes, corn, wheat, wild rice stalks, and white potatoes. They also eat these items on farmland in their habitat. (Poole, 1940)
Allegheny woodrats are not known to have any positive impact on humans. (Whitaker Jr. and Hamilton Jr., 1998)
Allegheny woodrats are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List. Within the United States, their status varies by state. In Kentucky, their numbers are stable. However, in Alabama, Virginia, and other states, they are threatened or vulnerable. In North Carolina, they are endangered. The decline in their numbers might be related to the extinction of American chestnut and decline in the number of oak trees. They are also affected by loss of available habitat. (Castleberry and Laerm, 2008; Castleberry, et al., 2006)
Lindsey Stanesa (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.
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