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Species Description

Hispid Cotton Rat

Sigmodon hispidus


Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae

Description

Coarse, yellowish - brown fur intermixed with stiff, black guard hairs. The belly is grayish-white to buffy. Feet are black. A stocky, medium-sized rat with a total length of 20 - 34 cm (7.9 - 13.4 in). The tail, thinly haired and scaly-looking, is shorter than the combined length of the head and body.

Life Cycle

The Hispid Cotton Rat breeds all year in the warmer parts of its range, producing an average of 8 - 10 young per litter about 27 days after mating. Young are partly furred at birth. Their eyes and ears open within 36 hours after birth. They are weaned in 10 - 15 days, and reach sexual maturity in 2 months or less. Females normally produce several litters per year.

Natural History

The Hispid Cotton Rat inhabits a broad variety of habitats where suitable cover is present, such as dense grassy fields, weedy old fields, roadside ditches, marshy areas, brushy or weedy forest edges, and pastures with dense grass growth. Beneath a canopy of grasses or weeds, this species develops interconnected runways marked by grass cuttings and piles of droppings. These runways, some worn to the ground by constant use, are made above fallen vegetation and ground debris and not under litter. The runways are also used by other small mammals. The Hispid Cotton Rat's principal diet is the stems, shoots, and leaves of grasses and sedges, but occasionally it will eat insects, the eggs and young of ground - nesting birds, and even other small rodents. This species is active during both night and day throughout the year, but is more nocturnal in the hottest months. It builds spherical nests of shredded plant material under logs or rocks, in burrows, or beneath densely matted vegetation. Common predators include foxes, the Coyote, weasels, hawks, owls, and snakes.

Range

The Hispid Cotton Rat is a Neotropical species which has been rapidly expanding its geographic range northward during this century. It now has an extensive geographic distribution but apparently does not occur above altitudes of 914.4 m (3,000 ft). It ranges from southern Nebraska and Virginia west to central Arizona, then south all the way into northern South America. This species can be found in suitable habitat throughout Georgia.

Conservation Status

This is an abundant species.

Similar Species

The Hispid Cotton Rat can be confused with the Marsh Rice Rat , but the March Rice Rat has white feet and its tail is about as long as the combined head and body length.