Wood Rat and Kangaroo Rat
“Let’s continue with other members of the Rat family. One of these is Trader the Wood Rat, in some parts of the Far West called the Pack Rat. Among the mountains he is called the Mountain Rat. Wherever found, his habits are much the same and make him one of the most interesting of all the little four-legged folks who wear fur.”
“Next to Jerry Muskrat he is the largest native Rat, that is, of the Rats which belong in this country. He is about two thirds as big as the Brown Rat and of the same general shape. His fur is thick and soft, almost as soft as that of a Squirrel. His fairly long tail is covered with hair. Indeed, some members of his branch of the family have tails almost as bushy as a Squirrel’s. His coat is soft gray and a yellowish-brown above, and underneath pure white or light buff. His feet are white. He has rounded ears and big black eyes and plenty of long whiskers.”
“Why is he called Trader?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“Oh yes, I was just coming to that,” Mother Nature chimed in. “He is Trader because his greatest delight is in trading. He is a born trader if ever there was one. He puts something back in place of whatever he takes. It may be little sticks or chips or pebbles or anything else that is handy although it is always something to replace what he has taken.”
“Next to trading he delights in collecting. His home is a regular museum. He delights in anything bright and shiny.. All sorts of odd things are found in his home–buckles cut from saddles, spoons, knives, forks, even money he has taken from the pockets of sleeping campers. Whenever any small object is missed from a camp, the first place visited in search of it is the home of Trader. In the mountains he sometimes makes piles of little pebbles just for the fun of collecting them.”
“He is found all over the West, from the mountains to the deserts, and in thick forests. He is also found in parts of the East and in the Sunny South. He is a great climber and is perfectly at home in trees or among rocks. He eats seeds, grain, many kinds of nuts, leaves and other parts of plants. In the colder sections he lays up stores for winter.”
“What kind of a home does he have?” asked Happy Jack.
“His home usually is a very remarkable space,” replied Mother Nature. “It depends largely on where he is. When he is living in rocky country, he makes it amongst the rocks. In some places he burrows in the ground. More often it is on the surface of the ground–a huge pile of sticks and thorns in the very middle of which is his snug, soft nest. The sticks and thorns are to protect it from predators. When he lives down where cactus grow, you know those odd plants with long sharp spines, he uses these, and there are few predators who will even try to pull one of these houses apart to get at him.”
“When he is alarmed or disturbed, he has a funny habit of drumming on the ground with his hind feet in much the same way that Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare thump, only he does it rapidly. Sometimes he builds his house in a tree. When he finds a cabin in the woods he at once takes possession, carrying in a great mass of sticks and trash. He is chiefly active at night, and a very busy fellow he is, trading and collecting. And Mrs. Trader has two to five babies at a time and raises several families in a year.
“Now we come to Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat, so called because of his long hind legs and tail and the way in which he sits up and jumps. Really he is not a member of the Rat branch of the family, although closely related to the Pocket Mice. You see, he has pockets in his cheeks.”
“Like mine?” asked Striped Chipmunk quickly.
“Actually no, they are on the outside instead of the inside of his cheeks. Yours are inside.”
“I think mine must be a lot handier,” asserted Striped Chipmunk, nodding his head in a very decided way.
“Longfoot seems to think his are quite satisfactory too,” replied Mother Nature.
“Oh do tell us how big he is and what he looks like,” Peter Rabbit said with great curiosity.
“When he sits up or jumps he looks like a tiny Kangaroo,” replied Mother Nature. “He is about the size of Striped Chipmunk. That is, his body is about the size of Striped Chipmunk’s and his tail is longer than his head and body put together.”
“My, it must be some tail!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit admiringly.
Mother Nature smiled. “It is,” she said. “You would like that tail, Peter. His front legs are short and the feet small, and his hind legs are long and the feet big. Of course you have seen Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse, Peter.”
Peter nodded. “Oh yes, of course,” he replied. “My how that fellow can jump!”
“Well, Longfoot is built in the same way as Nimbleheels and for the same purpose,” continued Mother Nature. “He is a jumper.”
“Then I know what that long tail is for,” Peter said with delight. “It is to keep him balanced when he is in the air so that he can jump straight.”
“You’ve got it Peter,” laughed Mother Nature. “That is just what it is for. Without it, he never would know where he was going to land when he jumped.”
“Now then, let’s see what else can I share with you,” said Mother Nature. “His fur is very soft and silky. Above, it is a pretty yellowish-brown, and underneath it is pure white. His cheeks are brown, he is white around the ears, and a white stripe crosses his hips and keeps right on along the sides of his tail. The upper and under parts of his tail are almost or quite black, and the tail ends in a tuft of long hair which is pure white. His feet are also white. His head is rather large for his size, and long. He has a long nose. Longfoot has a number of cousins, some of them much smaller than he, and they all look very much alike.”
“Where do they live?” asked Johnny Chuck who had been quietly paying attention.
“In the dry, sandy parts of the Southwest, places so dry that it seldom rains, and water is to be found only long distances apart from one another,” replied Mother Nature.
“Then how does Longfoot get water to drink?” inquired Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“He gets along without drinking,” replied Mother Nature. “Such moisture as he needs he gets from his food. He eats seeds, leaves of certain plants and tender young plants just coming up. He burrows in the ground and throws up large mounds of earth. These have several entrances. One of these is the main entrance, and during the day this is often kept closed with earth. Under the mound he has little tunnels in all directions, a snug little bedroom and storerooms for food. He is very industrious and dearly loves to dig.”
“Longfoot likes to visit his relatives sometimes, and where there are several families living near together, little paths lead from mound to mound. He comes out mostly at night, probably because he feels it to be safer then and also in that hot country it is cooler at night too. The dusk of early evening is his favorite playtime. If Longfoot has a quarrel with one of his relatives they fight, hopping about each other, watching for a chance to leap and kick with those long, strong hind feet. Longfoot sometimes drums with his hind feet after the manner of Trader the Wood Rat.”
“Now I think this will do for this morning’s session. If any of you should meet Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, please tell him to join us tomorrow morning. And you might tell Danny Meadow Mouse if you little folks want to extend our session.”
“We do!” cried Peter Rabbit, Jumper the Hare, Happy Jack Squirrel, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Striped Chipmunk, and Johnny Chuck all as one in unison.
- Has anyone ever called you or a family member a “pack rat”? Now you know it is referring to Trader the Wood Rat and his liking for collecting things and making piles! Just for fun and P.L.A.Y. when you go on your next nature adventure leave a few small piles of pebbles or leaves or acorns on the side of the trail so the next person who passes by is left wondering who has been there and what were they up to!
- Have you ever tried using poles or wood sticks for balance when you walk in the woods? Do they support you like the Kangaroo Rat uses his tail for support (almost like a 3rd leg)? Try using walking sticks to cross a log over a stream and then try without them. Do you feel a difference? What do you think would happen to the Kangaroo Rat if he had a short puffy cotton tail like Peter Rabbit?!?