Oryzomys galapagoensis, also known as the Galápagos rice rat, is endemic to the Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador. Subspecies O. galapagoensis galapagoensis was endemic to the island of San Cristóbal (area: 558 square kilometers; maximum altitude: 730 m) until its extinction sometime after 1835. Subspecies O. galapagoensis bauri inhabits Santa Fé Island (area: 24 square kilometers; maximum altitude: 259 m). San Cristóbal and Santa Fé Islands are part of the Galápagos National Park. Santa Fé Island is uninhabited by humans.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
Oryzomys galapagoensis is a relatively small, brown rat. It has medium brown pelage with a light underbelly. Oryzomys galapagoensis is sexually dimorphic with the males both heavier (male weight: 74 g vs. female weight: 55 g) and longer (male body length: 118 mm vs. female body length: 108 mm) than females. Oryzomys galapagoensis individuals have large black eyes, pointed noses, and large, almost bare ears. Their thin tails are equivalent in length to their body length and have little hair.
Subspecies Oryzomys galapagoensis bauri is likely physically indistinguishable from Oryzomys galapagoensis galapagoensis. The two O. galapagoensis subspecies occurred as two isolated island populations. The only population of O. galapagoensis galapagoensis inhabited San Cristóbal Island and is now extinct. Although three additional endemic rice rats (Nesoryzomys) and two invasive rats (Rattus) inhabit the Galápagos Islands, identification is easy as O. galapagoensis bauri is the only rat to inhabit Santa Fé Island.
Range mass: 55 to 74 g.
Range length: 108 to 118 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Overall, the Galápagos climate is relatively dry and composed of two distinct seasons. The warm, wet season lasts from December to May. During this time, the monthly average maximum temperature ranges between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius, and the monthly average rainfall ranges between 40 and 80 mm. The dry season occurs from May to December. During this time, the monthly average maximum temperature ranges between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius, and the monthly average rainfall ranges between 0 and 50 mm.
The only island where Oryzomys galapagoensis is currently found is Santa Fé. Santa Fé Island is uninhabited and characterized by desert-type flora. Santa Fé Island has an area of 24 square kilometers and a maximum altitude of 259 m. Oryzomys galapagoensis is common throughout the island of Santa Fé, especially in the arid zone, which is characterized by cacti and deciduous trees. The population density of O. galapagoensis is greater where vegetation density is greater.
Range elevation: 0 to 259 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Very little is known about the diet of Oryzomys galapagoensis. In the wild, O. galapagoensis was observed eating fishermen’s fish scraps, insects, and shoots of the plant, Cryptocarpus periformis. Based on the diet of other Oryzomys species, O. galapagoensis is likely a generalist, feeding mainly on succulent plant parts, seeds, and insects. Oryzomys galapagoensis is an opportunistic feeder and will capitalize on human food when available. It is described as having a voracious appetite and will chew its way into tents and boxes to access food. Galápagos rice rats have been observed feeding on bread, dried fruit, beans, meat, flies, and hermit crabs. Researchers also found O. galapagoensis to be cannibalistic when food is limited. It is hypothesized that O. galapagoensis is a seed disperser for Bursera graveolens, a tropical tree found on Santa Fé Island.
Animal Foods: mammals; fish; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; aquatic crustaceans
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
Oryzomys galapagoensis may play a key ecological role in the dispersal of Bursera graveolens, a tropical tree that dominates Santa Fé's arid environment. Feral goats (Capra hircus) inhabited Santa Fé for at least 66 years. In 1971, the Galápagos National Park Service extirpated the introduced goat population on the island. Since the goat removal, the severely impacted B. graveolens population has shown a considerable increase in the number of juveniles. Dispersers have played a significant role in the successful return of B. graveolens. Bursera graveolens parent plants inhibit germination. Thus, the plant relies on seed dispersal to decrease proximity to parent trees. Land iguanas (Conolophus pallidus), bird species, and O. galapagoensis are likely aiding in the seed dispersal of a number of plant species on Santa Fé.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Likely predators of Oryzomys galapagoensis are Galápagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis), and short-eared owls (Asio flammeus). Asio flammeus may have a greater impact on the population of Oryzomys galapagoensis due to the two species' overlap in nocturnal activity patterns. An instance of a centipede, Scolopendra galapagoensis, preying on a young O. galapagoensis in a nest has also been documented.
- Galapagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis)
- Galapagos centipedes (Scolopendra galapagoensis)
- short-eared owls (Asio flammeus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
There is little available information on the communication methods of Oryzomys galapagoensis. Oryzomys galapagoensis, like other Oryzomys species, utilizes vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to perceive its environment. Other Sigmodontinae species have been reported to use high-pitched vocalizations and urinary and fecal odors to communicate. Thus, hearing and olfaction may be particularly important aspects of interspecies communication for Oryzomys galapagoensis.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The maximum age an Oryzomys galapagoensis is known to have lived is about 2 years. This information is based on trap-retrap methods, where both a male and female were retrapped 599 days after their original capture.
Status: wild: 2 (high) years.
There is little available information as to the mating system of O. galapagoensis.
Unaddressed discrepancies exist in the literature as to the timing of the Galápagos rice rat’s reproductive season. Clark described the reproductive season as beginning in the warm, wet season (between January and May). According to Clark, the unpredictable timing of the warm season’s rains affects the start date of the reproductive season for O. galapagoensis. In contradiction with Clark's research, Brosset proposed that Galápagos rice rats breed multiple times in a year. Brosset found O. galapagoensis juveniles (age unspecified) during the months of March, July, and August. Brosset hypothesized that Galápagos rice rat reproduction is more affected by abundance of food than by seasonality.
Galápagos rice rats, although normally nocturnal, change to a diurnal activity pattern during the mating season. Later in the season, pregnant females become intolerant of males. The average number of embryos per pregnant female is influenced by the abundance of previous rainfall and resultant availability of food. During a particularly wet season the average number of embryos per female (n=10) was five. During a wet season with lower rainfall, the average number of embryos per female (n=5) was three.
Few quantitative data describe the gestation period, time to weaning, or age of reproductive maturity for O. galapagoensis. Brosset observed the development of a Galápagos rice rat litter of three at a field station. The mother gave birth nine days after capture. The offspring were described as naked and blind at birth and becoming black on the fourth day. On the ninth day, adult fur began to appear and the young opened their eyes. By the 13th day, the young were walking around the nest, and on the 19th day they ate bananas. After 35 days, the young had attained 75% of the adult female’s length. Brosset described the offspring and adult female as continuing to nest together without aggression.
For a more quantitative description of Galápagos rice rat reproduction, it is necessary to examine the reproductive behavior of the rice rat, Oryzomys palustris. Oryzomys palustris is similar in size to O. galapagoensis (weight: 40 to 80 g) and provides a reproductive guideline to follow. Oryzomys palustris has a gestation period of 25 days and the young weigh 3 to 4 g at birth. The weaning period of O. palustris is 2 weeks and the young reach sexual maturity after 2 months. The reproductive cycle of O. galapagoensis is likely similar; however, the two species vary in a number of life history traits, so these numbers should only be used as a guideline.
Breeding interval: Oryzomys galapagoensis may breed once or multiple times a year.
Breeding season: The breeding season is likely to occur from January to May, but may extend into August.
Range number of offspring: 2 to > 5.
Average number of offspring: 3 to 5.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
There is no available information on parental care for Oryzomys galapagoensis. Females provide milk to their offspring until weaning. Females leave the nest at night to forage.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Oryzomys galapagoensis is comprised of two subspecies and their distinct populations. The population of Oryzomys galapagoensis galapagoensis, which once inhabited San Cristóbal, is extinct. Evidence supports the assumption that the most likely cause of extinction was the introduction of black rats (Rattus rattus). It is unclear as to whether the black rats caused the native rice rat population decline through direct competition for resources or through the introduction of a pathogen. Some researchers believe an O. galapagoensis galapagoensis population may exist on the western side of San Cristóbal, where limited rodent surveys have been conducted.
Oryzomys galapagoensis bauri is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. This population of O. galapagoensis on Santa Fé is healthy, and individuals are considered common. This population, however, is extremely vulnerable to extinction if black rats (Rattus rattus) or Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) are introduced to this island.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Critically Endangered
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Inhabitants and tourists of the Galápagos may be forced to take particular care not to introduce Rattus rattus or Rattus norvegicus to Santa Fé Island. This is due to the observed vulnerability native Galápagos rodent populations have to the presence of these two species.
There are currently 3 species of endemic rodents in the Galápagos, including Oryzomys galapagoensis. The Galápagos archipelago is renowned and heavily visited for its unique flora and fauna. The tourism industry, which relies completely on the presence of these endemics, benefits the Ecuadorian government and people monetarily.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
It belongs to the genus Aegialomys in tribe Oryzomyini, but was previously placed in Oryzomys as Oryzomys galapagoensis. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry shrubland. Like many of the animals of the Galápagos, it is tame and unafraid of humans. Scientists working on Santa Fé Island and Fernandina Island have reported that it is necessary to keep tents open to prevent these rice rats from chewing in during the night. The subspecies A. g. bauri from Santa Fé Island is sometimes considered to represent a full species. A. g. galapagoensis was formerly found on San Cristóbal Island, where Charles Darwin captured several live specimens on the second voyage of HMS Beagle in 1855. However, it is believed that it became extinct only decades after Darwin's visit, and the next specimens collected were subfossil remains found in lava tubes by David Steadman and colleagues in 1984. Its closest relative is Aegialomys xanthaeolus, the only other species in the genus, which is found in coastal Ecuador and Peru.
This species is listed as Vulnerable due to a very small or restricted population with only one remaining location, which is threatened by the possibility of the introduction of exotic species to the island. The species is not currently in decline, however, the only other population of was extirpated from a neighboring island due to exotic species introductions - thus this species is susceptible to extinction in the future should invasive species be introduced. History: 2002 – Vulnerable 1996 – Critically Endangered Geographic Range [top] Range Description: This species is endemic to the Galápagos Islands. It occurs only on Sante Fe (= Barrington) Island, and previously occurred on San Cristobal (= Chatham) Island (Musser and Carleton, 2005). A. galapagoensis was first described from specimens collected from Santa Cruz Island by Charles Darwin in 1835. Later studies suggested that A. bauri from Santa Fe, and A. galapagoensis were so similar that they may be considered conspecific (Patton and Hafner, 1983).
- Tirira et al., 2008
- Musser and Carleton, 2005
- Steadman et al., 1988, p. 118
- Steadman et al., 1988, pp. 63-65, 118
- Weksler et al., 2006
- Musser, G.G. and Carleton, M.D. 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. Pp. 894–1531 in Wilson, D.E. and Reeder, D.M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: a taxonomic and geographic reference. 3rd ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2 vols., 2142 pp. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0
- Tirira, D., Boada, C. and Weksler, M. 2008. Aegialomys galapagoensis. In IUCN. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on December 3, 2009.
- Steadman, David W., Zousmer, Steven, Steadman, Lee M. 1988. Galápagos: Discovery on Darwin's Islands Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press ISBN 0-87474-882-8
- Weksler, M., Percequillo, A.R. and Voss, R.S. 2006. Ten new genera of oryzomyine rodents (Cricetidae: Sigmodontinae). American Museum Novitates 3537:1–29.
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