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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Desert Woodrats inhabit scrublands in desert and semi-desert areas. Unlike some other rodents living in regions with limited water resources, the Desert Woodrat does not have water-conserving physiological adaptations. The Woodrats solve this problem by eating succulent leaves, which provide the large amount of water they require. They often build their nests in clumps of plants of the agave family and prickly-pear cactus, which can provide them with both food and water. They defecate and urinate on their piles of stored plant material. Some of these dry and harden and last for tens of thousands of years, giving scientists a picture of what plant life was like in the region thousands of years ago. Desert Woodrats occur with other species of rodents, nearly all of them smaller. Their size and more aggressive nature give them an advantage over their neighbors in gaining access to nutrient-rich vegetation.

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Distribution

Range Description

Arid and semi-arid areas of western United States and southward to northwestern Sonora and through the Baja California peninsula (Mexico), including the islands of Espiritu Santo, San Francisco, San Jose, Danzante, Carmen, Angel de la Guardia, and Margarita. In the US, range includes southern California, southeastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho, western Utah, and extreme western Colorado and Arizona.
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Neotoma lepida is found from southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon south through Nevada and western Utah. Neotoma lepida is also found in southern California, including the coastal region, and along the Baja California peninsula. Desert woodrats also occur on several islands in the Gulf of California.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: island endemic

  • Verts, B., L. Carraway. 2002. Neotoma lepida. Mammalian Species, 699: 1-12.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Southeastern Oregon to west-central Colorado, south through Nevada, northwestern Arizona, and southern California to southern Baja California (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 2005).

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Physical Description

Morphology

Dorsal pelage of N. lepida ranges from pale, buffy-gray to dark-gray, and from cinnamon to black. The underside of N. lepida is white, as are the feet and throat. The tail is markedly bi-colored.

Neotoma lepida has a slender rostrum, and a narrow skull interorbitally. Neotoma lepida has no frontoparietal ridges, and the incisive foramina of this species are long and narrow.

N. lepida has a dental formula of 1/1, 0/0, 0/0, 3/3 = 16. The cheek teeth are hypsodont, and flat crowned.

The manus of N. lepida has 4 digits, and the pes has 5 digits.

Most body dimensions of N. lepida are sexually dimorphic. The total length feamles ranges from 281 to 392 mm, with males showing greater variation, and ranging in length from 276 to 407 mm. The tail length of females ranges from 122 to 192 mm, whereas males have a slightly longer tail of 129 to 198 mm. Hind foot lengths for females range from 27 to 38 mm. Males have hind foot lengths ranging from 28 to 38 mm. Ear length of females ranges from 27 to 38 mm, and of males ranges from 28 to 38 mm. Females weigh less than males, ranging from 122 to 240 g compared to the 132 to 350 g weight of males.

Range mass: 122 to 350 g.

Range length: 287 to 401 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.46 W.

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Size

Length: 38 cm

Weight: 170 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are larger than females.

Length:
Range: 225-383 mm

Weight:
Range: 130-160 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Occurs in desert scrublands and coastal sage scrub habitats. Requires succulent vegetation, especially Opuntia and Yucca, as a source of water. Nests in these plants or in crevices of nearby rock outcroppings.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Neotoma lepida is often found in areas with succulent vegetation, which may be used as a water source. They prefer habitats with moderate to dense canopies. This species is found in juniper-sagebrush, creosote bush scrub, Joshua tree woodlands, scrub oak woodlands, and pinon-juniper woodlands. Neotoma lepida is abundant in rock outcrops, and rocky cliffs and slopes.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest

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Comments: Sagebrush scrub; chaparral; deserts and rocky slopes with scattered cactus, yucca, pine-juniper, and other low vegetation; creosote bush desert; Joshua tree woodland; scub oak woodland; pinyon-juniper woodland; riparian zones; also recorded from salt marsh (see Verts and Carraway 2002). When inactive, occupies elaborate den built of debris on ground, among cacti or yucca, along cliff, among rocks, occasionally in tree. Young are born and reared in a nest within the den.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Neotoma lepida is a follivorous/granivorous species. Food consists of buds, fruits, bark, leaves, and young shoots of many plant species. These rats move from their shelters to feeding areas, but carry food back to the shelters to consume it in safety. The paths that desert woodrats take to their food sources are often made up of boulders, which helps to conceal these animals from predators.

In coastal scrub habitat, preferred foods of N. lepida are live oak, chamise, and buckwheat. In the Mojave Desert, N. lepida prefers creosote, cholla, and prickly pear. These rats prefer mormon-tea, rattlesnake weed, mustard, sagebrush, and buckwheat in the juniper-sagebrush habitats.

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Granivore )

  • Thompson, S. 1982. Spatial utilization and foraging behavior of the desert woodrat. Journal of Mammalogy, 63/4: 570-581.
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Comments: Feeds on beans and leaves of mesquite, juniper, parts of available cacti, creosote bush, thistle, Ephedra; also other green vegetation, seeds, fruits, acorns, and pine nuts. Derives water from diet. Can eat plants high in oxalic acid.

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Associations

Neotoma lepida competes with cricetid and heteromyid rodents, and therefore probably limits their populations. Their houses provide shelter for many small vertebrates. Because this species provides foodto snakes, owls, and many predatory mammals, it may influence their populations as well.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat; soil aeration

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Neotoma lepida uses the cover of its house, or hides in boulders to escape predation. The main predators of N. lepida are coyotes (Canis latrans), swift fox (Vulpes velox), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), and great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus). N. lepida may also fall victim to conspecifics.

Known Predators:

  • coyotes (Canis latrans)
  • swift foxes (Vulpes velox)
  • red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus)

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Known predators

Neotoma lepida is prey of:
Buteo jamaicensis
Bubo virginianus
Canis latrans
Vulpes velox

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication in this species is varied, and entails some chemical, tactile, visual, and accoustic components. Scent marking is sexually dimorphic in N. lepida. Males exhibit ventral rubbing more commonly than do females. Females exhibit rolling more than do males. Rubbing may occur in response to odors of conspecifics, after a male encounters a female, or in ares soiled by other individuals. Mates may communicate by intense sniffing, vocalization, hop and dart, and ear-wiggling responses, grooming, and foot thumping.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: Primarily nocturnal.

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Life Expectancy

These animals apparently live around 3 years in the wild.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
3 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10.5 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 10.5 years (captivity) Observations: One wild born specimen was about 10.5 years old when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Sexual behavior in males requires that the females both emit attractive odors and engage in precopulatory behaviors. Mates may communicate by intense sniffing, vocalization, hop and dart and ear-wiggling responses, grooming, and foot thumping. Males show a pattern of multiple mounts and ejaculation. Although not specifically reported, the sexual dimorphism of these animals suggests that mating is polygynous.

Neotoma lepida breeds from October to May. The gestation period is 30 to 36 days, with an average litter size of 2.7 young. Although these animals have been observed to be polyestrous in lab, They probably breed only once per year in the wild. Weaning occurs between 27 to 40 days of age, and reproductive maturity is reached by 2 to 3 months of age.

Breeding interval: Desert woodrats breed once yearly in the wild.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs between October and May.

Average number of offspring: 2.7.

Range gestation period: 30 to 36 days.

Range weaning age: 27 to 40 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 8.45 g.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Nesting is solitary for N. lepida. Nests are made of dried vegetation. Females have a strong maternal instinct, and will readily accept orphaned young. Lactating females have been observed to be much more aggressive to intruders than males or non-lactating females. The role of males in parental care has not been documented.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)

  • Brylski, P. 2000. "Desert Woodrat" (On-line). California Wildlife Habitat Relationship System. Accessed May 13, 2004 at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/whdab/html/M126.html.
  • Egoscue, H. 1957. The desert woodrat: a laboratory colony. Jornal of Mammalogy, 38: 472-481.
  • Flemming, A., P. Chee, F. Vaccarino. 1981. Sexual behavior and its olfactory control in the desert woodrat. Animal Behavioir, 29/3: 727-745.
  • Verts, B., L. Carraway. 2002. Neotoma lepida. Mammalian Species, 699: 1-12.
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Gestation lasts 30-36 days. Females produce 4 or more litters/year. Litter size usually is 2-3, but may number 1-5 young. Young are weaned in 21-34 days (depending on litter size), reach sexual maturity 2-3 months (Burt and Grossenheider 1964, Hoffmeister 1986).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Neotoma lepida

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 39
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V., Timm, R., lvarez-Castaeda, S.T., Castro-Arellano, I. & Lacher, T.

Reviewer/s
McKnight, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team) & Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category.

History
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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Neotoma lepida is not thought to be endangered at all, and is not listed by CITES or IUCN.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population
This species is common in suitable habitat. On islands with cliffs, it is very common, but on other islands it is considered to be very rare.

Reported densities range from 1.4 individuals/ha (January in the San Gabriel Mountains) to 30 individuals/ha (June-July in coastal sage).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
No known threats to the species. However, the Neotoma lepida complex has a number of extinct populations on the islands in the northwestern part of Mexico and many of the remaining island populations are likely vulnerable to habitat change or to introduced species, such as cats.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
There are no known conservation measures specific to this species. However, there are several protected areas within its range. Many of the island populations are considered endangered by Mexican law.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Neotoma lepida is a known carrier of hantavirus.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease)

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Neotoma lepida provides no direct economic benefit to humans. They are indirectly important to humans through their ecosystem roles.

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Wikipedia

Desert woodrat

The desert woodrat (Neotoma lepida) is a species of pack rat native to desert regions of western North America.

Description[edit]

Desert woodrats are relatively small for pack rats, measuring 28 to 39 cm (11 to 15 in) in length, including a 12 to 20 cm (4.7 to 7.9 in) tail. They weigh from 122 to 350 g (4.3 to 12.3 oz), with males being larger than females. Their coloring varies between individuals, and can be anything from pale gray to cinnamon to near-black. Regardless of the color on the rest of the body, however, the animal's underparts and feet are always white, while the otherwise pale fur on the throat region is gray at its base. The tail is distinctly bicolored, and has more hair, and fewer visible scales, than the tails of brown rats. Desert woodrats have a narrow snout, long whiskers, and relatively long ears that are almost the length of the hind feet.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Desert woodrats range from southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, south through Nevada and western Utah to California in the US, and Baja California and extreme northwestern Sonora in Mexico. [1] They are generally found in sagebrush scrub areas, in chaparral, and in deserts and rocky slopes with scattered cactus, yucca, pine/juniper, and other low vegetation, at elevations up to 2,900 m (9,500 ft).[2] They are most abundant in rocky areas with numerous crevices or rock piles in which they can seek shelter from predators.[3]

Twenty three subspecies are recognised, many of them restricted to small islands in the Gulf of California.[2]

Biology[edit]

They feed on beans and leaves of mesquite, on juniper, and on parts of available cacti, apparently without getting injured by the spines. They also eat creosote bushes, thistles, Ephedra, Mustard plants, sagebrush, and buckwheat. They will also eat other green vegetation, seeds, fruits, acorns, and pine nuts. In desert habitats, they are highly dependent upon prickly pear cacti for water balance, although they can be sustained on creosote year-round.[2] Although they are capable of eating food containing high levels of resins and oxalic acid, such as the leaves of creosote bushes,[4] these affect their water balance and limit their ability to eat other foods, limiting the growth fo the woodrats' population in areas where such plants are common.[5]

Predators include snakes, owls, hawks, coyotes, and other carnivorous mammals. They are also commonly parasitized by bot fly larvae.

Desert woodrats breed in the spring and summer, and give birth to litters of up to five young after a gestation period of 30 to 36 days. The young weigh about 10 g (0.35 oz) at birth, and are blind, with only the tips of their hairs visible. Their eyes open after about ten days. The teeth of newborn desert woodrats are initially splayed apart, creating a hexagonal opening between them, with which they clamp themselves to their mother's teats so firmly that they are difficult to separate. The teeth achieve their normal shape after about twelve days, but the young are not completely weaned until around four weeks of age.[2] They live up to five years in captivity.[6]

Behavior[edit]

Desert woodrats are primarily nocturnal[7] and are aggressively solitary. They may defend water sources, such as succulent plants, against other species, and perhaps prevent other species from obtaining water during droughts.[citation needed]

Desert woodrats sometimes appropriate the burrows of ground squirrels or kangaroo rats,[citation needed] and will fortify the entrance with several cubic metres of sticks and joints collected from jumping and teddy-bear chollas. This provides a formidable defense against predators. Living quarters are also often built against rock crevices, at the base of creosote or cactus plants, or in the lower branches of trees.[2] Rock crevices appear preferred where available, but pack rats generally adapt to any situation.

Wood rat (Neotoma lepida) midden

Woodrats construct houses for nesting, food caching, and predator escape. These can have up to six entrances and eight internal chambers, including both nests and food caches. Houses 36 cm (14 in) high and around 100 cm (39 in) across at the base are not unusual.[2] Nests are constructed of dried vegetation, usually fibrous grass parts or shredded stems.

Males mark their territory by rubbing themselves on the ground, depositing musky sebum secreted by large sebaceous glands on their abdomen. Females, however, scent mark by first digging, and then rubbing their flanks, legs or cheeks on the excavated soil.[8] They are active year-round.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Linzey, A.V., Timm, R., Álvarez-Castañeda, S.T., Castro-Arellano, I. & Lacher, T. (2008). "Neotoma lepida". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Verts, B.J. & Carraway, L.N. (2002). "Neotoma lepida". Mammalian Species: Number 699: pp. 1–12. doi:10.1644/1545-1410(2002)699<0001:NL>2.0.CO;2. 
  3. ^ Thompson, S,D. (1982). "Spatial utilization and foraging behavior of the desert woodrat, Neotoma lepida". Journal of Mammalogy 63 (4): 570–581. doi:10.2307/1380261. 
  4. ^ Meserve, P.L. (1974). "Ecological relationships of two sympatric woodrats in a California coastal sage scrub community". Journal of Mammalogy 55 (2): 442–447. doi:10.2307/1379012. 
  5. ^ Karasov, W.H. (1989). "Nutritional bottleneck in a herbivore, the desert wood rat (Neotoma lepida)". Physiological Zoology 62 (6): 1351–1382. 
  6. ^ Egoscue, H.J., et al. (1970). "Some fecundity and longevity records for captive small mammals". Journal of Mammalogy 51 (3): 622–623. doi:10.2307/1378407. 
  7. ^ Nelson, Z.C. & Yousef, M.K. (1979). "Thermoregulatory responses of desert wood rats (Neotoma lepida)". Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A: Physiology 63 (1): 109–113. doi:10.1016/0300-9629(79)90635-2. 
  8. ^ Fleming, A.S. & Tambosso, L. (1980). "Hormonal and sensory control of scent-marking in the desert woodrat (Neotoma lepida lepida)". Journal of Comparative Psychology 94 (3): 564–578. doi:10.1037/h0077679. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Subspecies aureotunicata, auripila, bensoni, devia, flava, harteri, monstrabilis, and sanrafaeli of the species Neotoma lepida were regarded together as a distinct species, N. devia, by Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 1993; see also Mascarello 1978 and Jones et al. 1992). However, the taxa that should be included in this species require further study and affirmation (Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005). Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) included aureotunicata, auripila, bensoni, flava, and harteri in N. devia; all other subspecies/synonyms in the devia-lepida group were allocated to N. lepida.

The North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) listed N. devia as distinct from N. lepida but stated that it is unclear if N. devia represents a valid species. Even with the removal of devia, N. lepida may represent a composite of two species (see Mascarello 1978; Baker et al. 2003; Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 2005).

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