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Mice Rats and Relatives: Muridae - Gambian Rat (cricetomys Gambianus): Species Accounts

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Physical characteristics: Gambian rats are fairly large rodents with short fur that can range from soft to coarse. Some species are mottled, or splotched, with darker colors or may have an indistinct white line running across the shoulders. They have large ears; dark rings around the rather small eyes; a long and narrow head and face; cheek pouches to collect food and other materials; smooth incisor teeth; dark or grayish brown upperparts with red tinges; creamy underparts; and a long, scaly tail that is hairless and completely white for the last half of the length. They have good senses of smell and hearing, but have poor eyesight. Adults have a body length of 9.4 to 17.7 inches (24 to 45 centimeters); tail length of 14.3 to 18.1 inches (36.5 to Female Gambian rats may have up to ten litters of pups each year, with an average of four pups per litter. (Illustration by Brian Cressman. Reproduced by permission.) 46.0 centimeters); male weight of about 6.1 pounds (2.8 kilograms); and female weight of about 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms).


Geographic range: Gambian rats are found in Africa, specifically from Senegal and Sierra Leone in the west to Sudan and Uganda in the east and as far south as Angola, Zambia, and northern South Africa.


Habitat: They inhabit forests, forest edges, thickets, and sometimes grasslands.


Diet: Their diet consists of insects, fruits (especially palm fruits and kernels), seeds, roots, nuts, leaves, snails, and crabs.


Behavior and reproduction: Gambian rats are mostly nocturnal although sometimes active during the day. They climb and swim well, and are usually seen alone. The rodents sometimes dig a simple burrow that has long passageways with side chambers for bedding and storage and is covered by dense vegetation. At other times, they use burrows of other animals, termite mounds, or natural crevices in rocks and hollow trees. Breeding occurs throughout the year. Up to ten litters per year are possible for females. The gestation period is twenty-seven to thirty-six days, with one to five pups born, although four pups in a litter is average. Young develop quickly and are able to breed as early as twenty weeks old.


Gambian rats and people: People buy and sell Gambian rats within the pet trade. These animals transmit diseases, such as monkeypox, to humans. Some people hunt them.

Conservation status: Gambian rats are listed as Rare in South Africa. Otherwise, they range from common to less common in their other ranges, and are not listed as threatened by the IUCN. ∎

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Feldhemer, George A., Lee C. Drickamer, Stephen H. Vessey, and Joseph
F. Merritt. Mammalogy: Adaption, Diversity, and Ecology. Boston: WCB McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th ed. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Vaughan, Terry A., James M. Ryan, and Nicholas J. Czaplewski. Mammalogy, 4th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 2000.

Whitfield, Philip. Macmillan Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984.

Wilson, Don E. and DeeAnn M. Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

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