They make a "boop, boop, boop" sound when danger draws near their burrow.
Bamboo Rat Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Rhizomys sinensis
Bamboo Rat Conservation Status
Bamboo Rat Locations
Bamboo Rat Facts
Bamboo rats are the size of house cats.
Bamboo Rat Summary
Can you imagine a rodent the size of a house cat? That would be the bamboo rat. They spend most of their lives in underground burrows, feeding on the roots of bamboo and other plants. There are four species native to Southeast Asia, all in the family Spalacidae. There is also an Amazon bamboo rat in South America, but it is from a different family of rodents and is not included in this article. Bamboo rats are plentiful in Asia, where they are seen both as a food source for people and an agricultural pest that damages crops. Unfortunately, they are also carriers of mold that can cause infection in people.
Bamboo Rat Facts
- This is a large rat species that moves slowly and spends most of its time in underground burrows.
- They live mainly in bamboo thickets and eat the roots of bamboo and other plants.
- These rats are large and meaty and taste good. They have been a food source for humans for at least 1,000 years.
- Despite their usefulness for food, farmers consider them a pest because they eat the roots of crops. They are also carriers of an infectious mold that can be dangerous for immunocompromised people.
- This species is plentiful in the wild and in captivity. The IUCN Red List classifies each of them as a species of “least concern.”
Bamboo Rat Scientific name
These are the common and scientific names of the Asian bamboo rats and the meaning of their names:
- Chinese bamboo rat, Rhizomys sinensis. “Rhizomys” comes from two Greek words meaning “root” and “mouse or rat.” “Sinensis” means “from China” in Latin.
- Hoary bamboo rat, Rhizomys pruinosus. “Rhizomys” comes from two Greek words meaning “root” and “mouse or rat.” “Pruinosus” means “frosted,” as does the word “hoary.” This species has grey-tipped hairs on its back, inspiring this name.
- Sumatra, Indomalayan, or large bamboo rat, Rhizomys sumatrensis. “Rhizomys” comes from two Greek words meaning “root” and “mouse or rat.” “Sumatrensis” means “from Sumatra.”
- Lesser bamboo rat, Cannomys badius. “Cannomys” comes from two Greek words meaning “to listen” and “mouse or rat.” “Badius” is Latin for “reddish-brown.”
Bamboo Rat Appearance
These creatures are rodents the size of house cats, growing 9.1 to 19.7 inches long and weighing up to 8.8 pounds. They look very much like Guinea pigs, and in fact, some people do keep them as pets. They have potato-shaped bodies with small ears, small eyes, and strong, short legs. Unlike Guinea pigs, they have tails. These can be 2-8 inches long and are either bald or thinly covered in hair. The rest of the animal’s body is covered in hair in shades of gray and brown with a lighter-colored coat on its underside.
Bamboo Rat Evolution and History
Based on genetic evidence, researchers think the ancestors of this species split from their rat and mouse cousins into a separate species called prokanisamys about 32 million years ago. However, the earliest fossil discovered so far, in Pakistan, appears to be about 24 million years old. Ancient bamboo rats had not yet adapted to living nearly exclusively below ground as modern ones have. They lived in a hot, humid tropical rainforest habitat. Changing climate and weather patterns likely were the driving force for them to move into new environments and adapt to life underground.
Bamboo Rat Behavior
These are solitary creatures except during mating season. They are known as stout and slow-moving. Two adaptations that help them tunnel are their incisor teeth, which they use to cut the soil, and their powerful front legs which they use to push the loose soil aside. They often create complicated networks of tunnels and underground chambers beneath bamboo thickets. After the food supply has been depleted in the area, they abandon their burrows and move on somewhere else. Empty bamboo rat tunnel networks can be ecologically useful by aerating the soil and providing burrows for snakes and small mammals.
They feed mainly on bamboo roots underground, but at night they come to the surface looking for fruit and seeds to eat and leaves and grasses to line their nests. They are able to climb and will sometimes clip off tasty parts of bamboo to drag to their burrows and store for future meals. When humans or other predators get into their territory, they try to scare them off by making a “boop, boop, boop” sound underground.
Bamboo Rat Habitat
This species’ preferred habitats are bamboo-covered hills and mountainsides at altitudes of 3,900 to 13,100 feet, digging their burrows under stands of bamboo. The lesser bamboo rat can live in a greater diversity of environments and eats a wider variety of plants. They often spread into forests, grasslands, and cultivated land. These are the countries where each of the 4 species ranges:
- Chinese bamboo rat: China, Vietnam, Myanmar
- Hoary bamboo rat: India, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar
- Sumatra, Indomalayan, or large bamboo rat: China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia.
- Lesser bamboo rat: Nepal, India, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia
Bamboo Rat Diet
They eat the roots of a variety of plants, not only bamboo. At night they emerge from their burrows to seek out leaves, seeds, and fruit to supplement their diet. Sometimes they invade farms and plantations. Bamboo rats are particularly fond of sugar cane, tea, cassava, and tapioca.
Bamboo Rat Predators and Threats
Any carnivore in their environment that is larger than the bamboo rat may prey on it. Smaller carnivores will feed on young rats when they get the opportunity. Some of the kinds of predators that share their environment are Asian black bears, tigers, red pandas, and cobras.
Humans are also a threat, both from loss of habitat and hunting. Bamboo rats have been a food source for people in the region for at least 1,000 years. They are relatively easy to catch or to keep as domestic livestock. They are hardy and compared to other rodents, they have a lot of delicious-tasting meat on them. In China, these rats have been commercially farmed since the 1990s, with the number of farmed rats estimated at over 66 million today. Farming of these and other wild and exotic creatures for food was suspended in 2020, as they were seen as a possible carrier of coronavirus. This trade has begun to start up again with the passing of pandemic conditions.
Bamboo Rat Reproduction and Life Cycle
This species of rat reproduces all year, but spring is a peak time for them. They can produce 3-4 litters a year. Females are pregnant for 22 days before giving birth to 2-4 blind and hairless young. In rare cases, litters can include as many as 8 young. Newborns take 24 weeks to open their eyes and 26 weeks for their fur to grow in. The babies are weaned at 3 months. In captivity, they can live up to nearly 5 years old.
Bamboo Rat Population
There are over 60 rat species in the world, numbering an estimated 7 billion individuals. Accurate estimates of wild bamboo rat population figures are hard to find. However, considering that 66 million live in captivity in China, it would be safe to say there are well over 100 million of them in the world today. They are plentiful and their conservation status is “least concern.”
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Bamboo Rat FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Is it good for humans to eat bamboo rats?
The meat of bamboo rats is said to be quite tasty. When humans eat bamboo rats, it helps keep the rat population under control. It lessens the demand for other meat sources that are more resource-intensive to produce. However, they are also known to carry some diseases, such as infectious mold, that can spread to people. One of the suspected culprits as the source of the 2020-22 coronavirus pandemic was a wild meat market. It’s important, then, if people are going to eat them, that the meat be processed in a sanitary way and thoroughly cooked.
Do bamboo rats eat only bamboo?
Bamboo rats mainly eat bamboo roots, but they also eat leaves, fruit, and seeds. Sometimes they infest a plantation and feast on tea, cassava, tapioca, and other valuable crops.
How many pups can one female bamboo rat produce in a year?
Females give birth 3-4 times a year, typically with 1-4 pups in each litter. This means in one year’s time a bamboo rat mother can give birth to anywhere from 3-16 young.
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- IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search/grid?query=bamboo%20rat&searchType=species
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_rat
- Synapsida , Available here: https://synapsida.blogspot.com/2020/02/a-history-of-bamboo-rats.html
- Britannica , Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/bamboo-rat