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Cane Rats: Thryonomyidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Cane rats earned their African nickname of "grass cutter" because of their method of eating: after using their powerful incisors to cut grasses at their base, the animals take the bunch of grass in their forefeet, sit upright on their haunches, and begin to feed the grass into their mouths slowly, cutting it up into small bits. When eating and when relaxed, they make soft grunting noises.


When threatened, cane rats thump their powerful rear feet on the ground to alert others while emitting a piercing whistling sound. Although its teeth are formidable, a frightened cane rat will virtually always run with great speed into dense vegetation and toward the nearest open water rather than turning to fight. If captured, the animals thrash frantically and are frequently injured. When enclosed in a box or crate, the rats often use their padded noses as battering rams to try to escape.

Primarily nocturnal, cane rats create and use narrow trails through the grass and reeds to move around their territories. Biologists think they live in groups of no more than twelve individuals. Males, who live with their young and a few mature females, do not tolerate the presence of other mature males, and aggressively defend their family groups. Males fight by pressing their padded noses together until one eases up on the pressure, at which point his opponent may swiftly swing his rump around to knock the weaker rat off balance.

Despite their well-developed claws, cane rats use burrowing only as a last resort for shelter and even then would rather use abandoned porcupine or aardvark burrows or holes in stream banks cause by erosion if dense vegetation for hiding is absent. Cane rats have been observed gnawing on rocks, pieces of tusk, and bones, presumably to sharpen their teeth.

The cane rats mate with multiple partners throughout the year, although primarily during the rainy season when more food is available. In captivity, pairs reproduce at any time of the year. Pregnant females create a special nursery nest, carving out a shallow depression in a sheltered area and using leaves and grass to line it. She gestates, is pregnant, for 137 to 172 days, and may have two litters of one to eight pups each year. The pups are born with open eyes and are completed furred. They nurse for about a month, but stay with the adults until they reach sexual maturity at five months of age, when males begin to show aggression toward each other.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsCane Rats: Thryonomyidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Cane Rats And People, Greater Cane Rat (thryonomys Swinderianus): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RA\NGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS