Eastern Woodrat

Neotama floridana

Last updated: March 13, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Charles T. Peden/Shutterstock.com

The eastern woodrat mating ritual involves a potentially deadly fight between the male and female before reproduction begins!

Eastern Woodrat Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Cricetidae
Genus
Neotama
Scientific Name
Neotama floridana

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Eastern Woodrat Locations

Eastern Woodrat Locations

Eastern Woodrat Facts

Name Of Young
kittens or pups
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
The eastern woodrat mating ritual involves a potentially deadly fight between the male and female before reproduction begins!
Estimated Population Size
over 10,000 individuals
Biggest Threat
habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Exceptionally long tail of 15-20cm
Other Name(s)
bush rat
Gestation Period
30-37 days
Litter Size
1-3
Habitat
Forest, caves, shrublands, grasslands, wetlands, and rocky outcrops
Predators
Owls, raccoons, weasels, foxes, and snakes
Diet
Herbivore
Type
Rodent
Common Name
Eastern woodrat
Number Of Species
8
Location
Southeastern and Midwestern United States, from southern Illinois and New York state to as far south as central Florida
Group
Solitary

Eastern Woodrat Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey-Brown
Skin Type
Hair
Lifespan
3 years
Weight
0.47-0.73 lb (213-331 g)
Length
13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
Age of Sexual Maturity
5 months (females)
Age of Weaning
1 month

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Eastern Woodrat Summary

“Despite being a pest to humans, the eastern woodrat plays an important ecological role within its habitat.”

The eastern woodrat, a medium-sized rodent also called the bush rat, is native to the eastern and central United States. It now lives from southern Illinois and the Appalachian Mountains of New York to as far south as central Florida, also stretching from Colorado to Maryland. It is known as a pest to humans and a carrier of parasites and diseases. But its nest provides a home for multiple other species, including insects, frogs, reptiles, and other rodents. Being an herbivore, its waste droppings help spread seeds to maintain the growth cycle of its forest ecosystem. Its droppings also improve soil fertility.

5 Eastern Woodrat Facts

  • Although they are not aggressive toward humans, an eastern woodrat bite can carry diseases like rabies
  • Females of the species can mate again as soon as one week after giving birth to a litter of pups
  • Most eastern woodrats die within their first year of life
  • The rats can live their entire lives without drinking from a water source
  • A single eastern woodrat’s “house” can contain multiple nests although it lives alone

Eastern Woodrat Scientific Name

The eastern woodrat’s scientific name is Neotoma floridana. But it is commonly called the bush rat. It is a member of the Cricetidae family of the Mammalia class and Rodentia order. Neotoma is from the Greek term “neos,” meaning new, and “tomos,” meaning cut. “Tomos” refers to the rat’s razor-sharp teeth it uses to cut through plants, nuts, seeds, and bark as part of its herbivore diet. Overall, its name indicates it was a newly discovered mammal with cutting teeth, “floridana” referring to its discovery beneath a Florida tree.

There are eight subspecies of the eastern woodrat. These include:

  • Neotoma floridana illinoensis
  • Neotoma floridana floridana
  • Neotoma floridana smalli
  • Neotoma floridana baileyi
  • Neotoma floridana pennsylvanica
  • Neotoma floridana attwateri
  • Neotoma floridana osagensis
  • Neotoma floridana rubida

Eastern Woodrat Appearance & Behavior

The eastern woodrat is a medium-sized rodent at about 13.4 to 16.9 inches long. That is about the same length as a ferret or the height of a bowling pin! It typically weighs between 0.47 and 0.73 lbs. Its tail is its most prominent feature, being 5 inches to 7.8 inches of the animal’s total length. The bush rat’s body fur is mostly gray-brown, blending in well with the forest floor, tree bark, rocks, and other surroundings of its natural habitat. But its belly and feet are white. Adult males are typically larger than females.

Eastern woodrats are highly aggressive toward other members of their species, except when mating. But even the mating ritual starts off with a fight that often leads to the death of the male. Because of this aggression, the rats live solitary lives. Each rat builds or finds an existing “house,” a den where they construct one or two nests where they will live throughout their lives.

Eastern Woodrat Habitat

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the eastern woodrat lives in the U.S. states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, North Carolina, and Illinois. But sometimes the rats are seen in regions as far north as the Appalachian Mountains of New York. Their habitats include forests, wetlands, shrublands, grasslands, rocky outcrops, and caves.

Because hiding from predators is critical for the rats’ survival, they typically nest where they can quickly conceal themselves. They build houses in brush piles, woodpiles, refuse, hollow trees, rocky bluffs, tall vegetation, root clusters, and even abandoned buildings. Within their houses, they build their nests of just about any material they can drag or carry by mouth.

Each of the eastern woodrat’s eight subspecies lives in specific regions. Neotoma floridana illinoensis lives in both Georgia and Tennessee but is also found as far west as Texas. Neotoma floridana floridana is found in North Carolina and South Carolina. The Key Largo eastern woodrat, found in Florida, is Neotoma floridana smalli. Nebraska is home to Neotoma floridana baileyi and Neotoma floridana attwateri. The Osage woodrat, Neotoma floridana osagensis, is the subspecies mostly found in Oklahoma. Neotoma floridana rubida are common in Texas.

Eastern Woodrat Predators & Threats

The eastern woodrat is an herbivore. But it makes a tasty meal for many carnivorous predators like owls, spotted skunks, weasels, red foxes, snakes, and raccoons. Snakes, in particular, hunt woodrat pups by invading their dens and plucking the babies from their nests. Because it faces so many threats to its survival, the rat lives a nocturnal life. It forages at night under the cover of darkness and returns to its den to sleep during daylight hours.

Other threats to the eastern woodrat’s survival are disease and parasites. Botflies lay eggs outside the rats’ dens where the eggs easily stick to the rodents’ fur. The eggs hatch in the fur, then the larvae burrow under the rat’s skin for pupation. About one in every five or six woodrats is a carrier of a botfly infestation. Raccoon roundworms are deadly parasites that often infest the rats, as well. In many states, about two in every three eastern woodrats carry roundworms and will die from these parasites.

According to the IUCN, the eastern woodrat’s overall conservation status is of “least concern.” However, its numbers are declining in many areas, much because of human reduction of their natural habitat. Only the Key Largo, Florida subspecies is endangered. Otherwise, there is a healthy population of currently more than 10,000 eastern woodrats living in the wild in the United States.

What eats the eastern woodrat?

The most common predators of the eastern woodrat are owls, snakes, skunks, raccoons and weasels. With so many of these predators in the rat’s habitat, it is no wonder the rodent forages at night and hides in its den during the daytime!

What does the eastern woodrat eat?

The eastern woodrat eats mostly plants, seeds, and nuts. Its diet includes fungi like mushrooms, plant buds, stems, roots, leaves, and fruits, too. The rats forage for their food at night. They eat most of what they find. But they also cache, storing leftover food like squirrels do for the winter and other times when foraging is difficult. In fact, one eastern woodrat can store as much as one bushel of food. That is about 9.5 gallons of plants, seeds, fruits, and other food!

Eastern Woodrat Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The eastern woodrat is violent and aggressive, particularly to members of its own species! In fact, adult woodrats often chase and kill young rats. Even mating is deadly in many cases. The male and female start their mating ritual with a fight. If the female kills the male in the fight, there will be no reproduction. But if the male wins, he mates with the female.

In warmer climates like Georgia, Texas, and Florida, eastern woodrats mate year-round. In colder climates like Colorado, Illinois, and Nebraska, mating takes place from spring to fall. Once the female is pregnant, she carries the young in her belly for 32 to 38 days’ gestation. The pups are born live in litters of under 6 babies. Most often, litters range between 1 and 3 pups. When the pups are a week old, the female can become pregnant again. Each adult female can bear up to three litters each year after she reaches sexual maturity, typically at five months of age or older.

The eastern woodrat’s babies have closed eyes and little fur when they are born. They have all of their fur and open eyes by the end of their second week of life. Although they wean at about four weeks of age, they do not leave their mother’s house until between 70 and 90 days of life. At about 8 months of age they are fully grown.

There are reports of eastern woodrats having a lifespan of between 6 and 8.6 years in captivity, such as in zoos. But most of these rodents die within 3 years in the wild. Studies have shown only about 10% of the rats have a lifespan past their first year, thanks to parasites, predators, and disease.

Eastern Woodrat Population

There are more than 10,000 eastern woodrats living in their natural habitats in the United States today. Although most of the population is listed as of “least concern” by the IUCN, they are noted to have decreasing numbers. The biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment and destruction of their natural habitat. The IUCN reports all except the Key Largo subspecies of eastern woodrat being widespread and common. The Key Largo woodrat, Neotoma floridana smalli, is endangered.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Eastern Woodrat FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Solitary

Eastern woodrats are herbivores. They feed mostly on seeds, nuts, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers, buds, and other plants. They also like fungi, such as mushrooms.

Where do eastern woodrats live?

Eastern woodrats are native to the central and eastern United States. They live as far north as Illinois and the Appalachian mountains of New York. Their habitats stretch from Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas to Maryland and as far south as the Gulf states and central Florida.

Are eastern woodrats endangered?

Eastern woodrats are mostly non-threatened and listed as being of “least concern” by the IUCN. That is with the exception of the Key Largo woodrat subspecies, the only one of the rat’s eight subspecies that is listed as endangered by the IUCN.

Is an eastern woodrat a rat?

As a member of the Rodentia Order and with the appearance of a typical rat, the eastern woodrat is indeed a rat. It has all of the common features of rats, such as rounded ears, a tapered snout, rounded body, and a long tail. It is a type of pack rat that lives mostly outdoors in a forest, wetland, shrubland, grassland, cave, or rocky habitat. But sometimes these rats make their houses in abandoned buildings.

Sources
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  5. , Available here: https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlife/field-guide/mammals/eastern-woodrat
  6. , Available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm91_054316.pdf
  7. , Available here: https://kidadl.com/animal-facts/eastern-woodrat-facts
  8. , Available here: https://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/easternwoodrat.pdf
  9. , Available here: https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/405224
  10. , Available here: https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.100518/Neotoma_floridana
  11. , Available here: https://grandstrandmag.com/feature/eastern_woodrat_neotoma_floridana
  12. , Available here: https://eol.org/pages/328454
  13. , Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/42003838
  14. 5 months (females) (1970) 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
  15. , Available here: https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/59f5e235e4b063d5d307dd3d
  16. , Available here: https://www.news-leader.com/story/life/2017/01/30/critter-week-eastern-wood-rat/97250760/
  17. , Available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268290864_Feeding_Habits_of_the_Eastern_Woodrat_Neotoma_floridana_in_Southern_Illinois
  18. (1970) kittens or pups
  19. , Available here: https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.100518/Neotoma_floridana

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