Consider the Woodrat

I ask that you bring your attention now to one of our local woodland residents, the Dusky-footed Woodrat. The north-facing, Bay Laurel and Madrone sheltered hillsides of Edgewood County Park host numerous woodrat dens. I could show you a place that’s like a subdivision – probably a dozen or more closely arranged under the trees. Even though I’ve tramped around Edgewood at all times of day and in all kinds of weather, I’ve yet to see a woodrat. They’re nocturnal, and pretty cagey about not being seen during daylight hours. But their homes are quite visible. Take a look.

To get a sense of the scale, it’s about 6 ft. from the base to the top of the den. The woodrat likes the den to have a solid base, and in this case has selected a solid outcropping of serpentinite rock. But they’ll use anything solid, like an abandoned car or refrigerator, as protection against invaders attacking the nest from below. The dens are quite elaborate, and are maintained over successive generations of woodrat families. Inside, you’ll find corridors leading to storage areas, sleeping quarters, and food pantries. They even maintain a separate rest room just outside the back door. Some of the dens are a bit ramshackle, but this one is nicely done. I like how they color-coordinated the design with lichen-covered branches arranged around the green rock base. And they’ve added a delicate lattice of poison oak branches around the perimeter. Definite curb appeal. This next den opts for a more “woodsy” feel.

Woodrat midden

The Bay Laurel spreads out from the base, and the top of that root structure makes a good platform for the woodrat to build upon. I’ve been reading up on the woodrat. They let some other animals move into their dens at times. That’s very nice of them to share, but as you see it looks like there’s plenty of room. If you describe yourself as a “pack rat”, then you will find kinship with the woodrat. They like to collect things, especially if they are small shiny things. If you’ve lost your car keys or sunglasses while hiking in Edgewood, there’s a pretty good chance our friend the woodrat knows right where they are. I hope to see one of these guys some day, but for now I’ll include a picture so that we know who we’re talking about.

woodrat

Seems like a pleasant sort. Photo credit, UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserves.

My new-found woodrat awareness is informed by the Nature of a Man blog, starting with this post about how they build their houses.

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