The Allegheny woodrat is a small rodent (about the size of a squirrel) that resides in rock outcrops, boulder fields, abandoned mine portals, talus slopes, and caves from southern New York to Tennessee (Wood 2001). Woodrats prefer to inhabit cliff line or boulder fields with complex, small tunnel systems. This provides a secure "highway" between their food caches, latrines, and nesting site (NYSDEC 2012). Oftentimes, a rock ledge with discarded acorn shells can be an excellent indicator of Allegheny woodrat presence. A woodrat does not hibernate. Nearly midsummer, it starts to build a food cache for the long winter. Common predators of the Allegheny woodrat include great horned owls, black rat snakes, raccoons, and coyotes (Butchkoski 2010).
Although related, the Allegheny woodrat differs from the more common, nonnative Norway and black rats in several ways:
• The Allegheny woodrat mostly lives in natural areas, occasionally occupying structures. The woodrat generally tolerates little human disturbance (Linzey 2008). Norway and black rats are rarely found far from human occupied structures (Burt and Grossenheider 1980).
• Woodrats are mostly solitary animals, usually only seeking the company of another during breeding season (Butchkoski 2010) whereas Norway and black rats are colonial (Burt and Grossenheider 1980).
• The Allegheny woodrat has a tail that is completely covered in fur, as opposed to Norway and black rats which have scaly, bare tails.
• Allegheny woodrats have large ears, and their feet and venters (bellies) are covered in white fur. Juvenile woodrats have buffy, or lightly tan colored venters.
• The tails of Norway and black rats are longer than their heads and bodies, whereas woodrats' tails are shorter.
• Unlike Allegheny woodrats, Norway and black rats are not native to North America. They are native to Asia, traveled to Europe along with humans, and then were transported to North America among the settlers in the 1600's.
• A female Norway rat in reproductive condition will have twelve mammae, whereas an Allegheny woodrat will have only four (Burt and Grossenheider 1980).
Unlike many animals, a trapped woodrat will rarely act aggressively towards its captors. Instead, it appears fearful, yet curious. Many times upon release, a woodrat will linger among the researchers, or will return within a few minutes to the release site.
The Allegheny woodrat population is listed as a "species of concern" in West Virginia. Some factors that have contributed to its population declines are food shortages, increases in predator populations, raccoon roundworm, and general human encroachment. It is very likely that the chestnut blight that removed all of the old growth American chestnut trees had a widespread impact on the Allegheny woodrat food supply (Butchkoski 2010). It has a conservation status of at least an S3 (vulnerable) in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, DC, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia (See distribution map; NatureServe 2012).
The Allegheny woodrat has a global conservation status of G3 (vulnerable), which means "at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors." In addition to the global status, each state has its own relevant conservation status for the Allegheny woodrat (NatureServe 2012).
If you are visiting potential Allegheny woodrat habitat, it is imperitive to pack out your trash and uneaten food scraps. Trash should never be left behind in any vicinity, but areas around the park's sandstone cliffs, boulder fields, abandoned mine portals, caves, and talus slopes need special consideration when it comes to Allegheny woodrat conservation. Leaving food debris and trash can attract scavengers that may prey on the woodrat, causing unneccesary interaction or introducing desease. For more information, visit the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources website and search Allegheny woodrat (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/14581/0).
Burt W, Grossenheider R. 1980. A field guide to the mammals: North America north of Mexico. Third ed. vol. 5. (Peterson Field Guides). Boston (MA): Houghton Mifflin 167-95 p.
Butchkoski E. 2010. Allegheny Woodrat [Internet]. Pennsylvania Game Commission;
[cited 2013 Jan 3]. Available from: www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/directory/threated_and_endangered_species
Linzey A, compiler. 2008. 2012 IUCN red list of threatened species, Neotoma magister [Internet]. IUCN; [cited 2013 Jan 3]. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org
NatureServe. 2012. NatureServe Explorer [Internet. Arlington (VA). [cited 2012 Oct 2]. Available from: http://www.natureserve.org/explorer
[NYSDEC] Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State. 2012. Allegheny Woodrat [Internet]. [cited 2012 Oct 1]. Available from: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6975.html
Wood P. 2001. Characteristics of Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) habitat in the New
River Gorge National River, West Virginia. [cited 2013 Jan 3].