Gambian rat

The Gambian rat is one of the largest species in the rodent family, but at the same time one of the friendliest. Due to their large size, Gambian rats pose a serious threat to native species (especially nesting ones) and crops, especially if they invade mainland Florida.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Gambian Rat

Photo: Gambian rat

Gambian rats are found in central Africa, in areas south of the Sahara desert and as far south as Zululand. This includes countries such as Nigeria and others.

Gambian rats — they are burrowing animals. They prefer cool, dry and dark places to place their burrows as they are sensitive to heat. In their native range in Nigeria, Gambian rats are found in degraded forests, forest clearings and fringes, coastal areas, and sometimes near human dwellings. The burrows are built near the roots of large trees, especially oil palms and the stumps of dead trees. They also inhabit areas near termite mounds, probably because these areas remain dry and cool during the rainy season.

Video: Gambian Rat

This species is very common in the natural habitat of the area in Grassi Key. Apparently, they do not live in damp bush and mangrove areas. They have also been recorded in modified and developed residential areas. They may not need to create their own burrows in the Florida Keys, as limestone formations, trees, human dwellings, and rubbish piles are good substitutes.

The Gambian rat, also called the African giant rat, is one of the largest rats in the Mouse family, with an average length of about 1 m, including the tail. The Gambian rat can weigh up to 4 kg, which is comparable to a small domestic cat.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What the Gambian Rat looks like

Photo: Gambian Rat

Gambian rats are large rodents from Africa. They are wild animals that can grow to the size of a small dog. Gambian rats are not good pets, but some still keep them at home.

Gambian rats are similar in size to other African giant rat species and are often confused with this species. Gambian rats have coarse brown fur and a dark eye ring, unlike African rats which have a soft gray coat with white fur on their belly. Their long tails are scaly and they have narrow heads with small eyes. Unlike other rats, Gambian rats have cheek pouches.

Fun fact: The main physical characteristic of Gambian rats is their large cheek pouches. These sacs can expand to enormous sizes, allowing Gambian rats to transport huge amounts of food when needed.

In captivity, color variations begin to be observed in these rats. These changes include very thin stripes and patches on the shoulders and thighs, small white markings on the head such as a dot between the eyes or a flame, and changes towards stark black. Their most distinctive feature, common to both domestic and wild species, is their two-colored tail. Approximately two-thirds of the tail is dark, with the last third very pale or white.

Females and males are generally the same size, with little sexual dimorphism. Gambian rats can reach sizes up to 910 mm or more, including the tail. These rats also have a very low fat content, which may be the reason for their tendency to catch colds. A distinctive feature of the Gambian rat is a hairless tail, which is almost half the total length of the animal. As a nocturnal animal, the Gambian rat does not see well, but has a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Where does the Gambian rat live?

Photo: Gambian Hamster Rat

Photo: Gambian Hamster Rat

Gambian rats can be found in a variety of habitats near man-made objects or in the forest. Their hiding places are underground and usually in the most shaded places in order to keep the burrow cool and protected. As an omnivore, the Gambian rat can survive on a variety of foods, which allows it to breed in a variety of places where there are small invertebrates or vegetation.

Fun Fact: On its native African continent, the Gambian rat used to detect underground mines.

Providing a good, strong, large rat cage at home can be problematic. It's also worth remembering that even with a large cage, rats will need to get out of the cage daily to socialize and move around. These rats can start chewing on everything they see around them, so be sure to keep a close eye on them when they are out of the cage. The basic requirements for a cage are minimal: the more space a Gambian rat has, the better.

Interesting fact: Gambian rats live in captivity for about 5-7 years, although some have been known to live up to 8 years. The lifespan of these rats in the wild is difficult to document because of the small size of these creatures and because they are so often hunted by indigenous peoples.

Now you know where Gambian rats live . Let's see what to feed them.

What does the Gambian rat eat?

Photo: Gambian pouched rat

Photo: Gambian pouched rat

Gambian rat — it is a large aggressive animal that poses the greatest threat to crops and small native species found in Florida. Many endangered species are most at risk from the Gambian rat due to its ability to compete for resources, combined with high fertility.

The Gambian rat differs from other rodents in its ability to store grain and food in its cheek pouches. This allows you to increase your food intake at a time and increase the chance of crop damage.

Gambian rats are omnivores and are known to consume:

  • vegetables;
  • insects;
  • crabs;
  • snails;
  • palm bones and palm fruits.

If you keep Gambian rats at home, remember that they need more protein than their smaller brothers. They are omnivores in the wild, eating everything — from plant foods to insects and some small mammals. Animals kept as pets eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, cereals and meats, as well as eggs. A specialist should be consulted about the appropriate diet for a particular animal. Rodents also like to dig into the bedding at the bottom of the cage and store food there.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: African Gambian Rat

Photo: African Gambian Rat

Gambian rats — nocturnal animals, mainly due to the fact that they have little or no tolerance for the intense heat of a typical African day. They are almost inactive during the day and come out at night in search of food. Gambian rats often use an extensive system of tunnels or hollow trees for their nests, where they rest during the day and come out at night in search of food. These nests are often located in cool areas, providing more evidence of heat intolerance.

Interestingly, Gambian rats find almost as much value in the act of transfer as they do in food storage. This leads to intricate hoarding patterns when food is plentiful at any time of the year. The pouches inside the cheeks of Gambian rats can hold over 100 ml when filled, and this allows them to transport huge amounts of food in a short amount of time. Some studies have shown that Gambian rats carry 3 kg in two and a half hours.

Gambian rats are also very good climbers and swimmers and easily overcome 2 meters. Both sexes are very territorial. Although Gambian rats tend to be solitary in the wild, females often form large groups containing many mothers and their litters, while males usually remain solitary. These rats quickly adapt to new situations such as captivity. Gambian rats have also been known to huddle when temperatures drop. Due to their low fat content, they do not retain heat easily.

Since Gambian rats are new to captivity, they can be a little more unpredictable than other rats in domestic environments, and their temperament can vary from individual to individual. Although they can often be kept as pets, some Gambian rats remain shy or become aggressive over time. However, they are amenable to training, after which most rats become friendly and easy to handle.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Baby Gambian Rat

Photo: Baby Gambian Rat

Mating in Gambian rats involves the formation of a social pair bond between one male and one female. The male usually sniffs or licks the urogenital areas of the female before attempting to mate with her. Gambian rats also exhibit idiosyncratic courtship behavior. The male and female often stand up straight and scratch each other, then chase each other until the female is ready to copulate. If the female is not receptive or rejects the male, she bites his tail before the courtship behavior begins.

Gambian rats usually breed in the summer. The estrous cycle lasts from 3 to 15 days. Interestingly, the estrous cycle is often irregular and seems to depend on many external factors, including the environment. Other factors include the presence of males and captivity. Females reach sexual maturity at about 6 months and typically have about 9 litters per year. The gestation period is approximately 30 to 32 days. Females are also very aggressive when giving birth.

Young Gambian rats are born hairless, with their eyes and ears closed. The characteristic long tail does not show significant growth until about 30-35 days. The eyes do not open until about 21 days of development, although juveniles are fully furred and have open ears at about 14 days.

The female provides the most parental care, both as a source of warmth for the naked young and as a source of milk. The female also changes her eating habits before weaning her cubs, choosing softer foods. The male, on the other hand, takes little care of the children. He is at best tolerant, and sometimes kills young individuals and eats them. This is not as common in females.

Natural enemies of Gambian rats

Photo: What the Gambian Rat looks like

Photo: What the Gambian Rat looks like

There are no true predators in the wild that target Gambian rats. While there have been a few reported cases of Gambian rats being eaten by a bird of prey or other predator, they usually band together and are formidable adversaries for would-be predators. The largest predator of the Gambian rat — people, indigenous African population. These rats are considered a delicacy and are often hunted for food. They are considered quite tasty and are hunted and even farmed for their meat, which has led to a significant reduction in the population.

Interesting fact: In the scientific community, Gambian rats are often used for experiments and provide a wealth of information about the physiology and behavior of rodents.

Gambian rats serve to control insect populations, but they are also carriers of seeds of various plants when they eat the resulting fruits. Some parasitic worms inhabit the gastrointestinal tract of these rats, but Strongyloides is the most common.

Study also showed a small presence of tapeworms among other parasites.

Other parasites include:

  • xenopsylla cheopis;
  • aspicularis tetraptera;
  • ixodes rasus;
  • ornithonyssus bacoti.

Hymenolepis is usually found in the small intestine of the rat, while Aspicularis is found in the rectum and colon.

Population and species status

Photo: Gambian Rat

Photo: Gambian Rat

Eight Gambian rats were accidentally released in 1999 by an exotic breeder in Florida. Local experts believe that the Gambian rat is responsible for the emergence of the monkeypox virus in 2003, which was spread among prairie dogs bought as pets. Shortly thereafter, Florida banned the distribution and sale of imported rats.

Gambian rats are currently restricted to roam in Florida due to natural barriers preventing migration to the Florida mainland. It's not completely impossible for rats to cross highway bridges to the Florida mainland, so local experts are working to eradicate the isolated population before it spreads. Best Practices for Management — it is rat poison if an infestation is suspected and immediately notify local fish and wildlife authorities to assist in eradicating the population.

Gambian rats are sometimes considered pests in urban areas where they can infest sewers. In rural areas, they can destroy crops and create holes in the soil that cause the soil to dry out and crops to die. Gambian rats often live in barns and other agricultural buildings, which can result in property damage. Gambian rats are threatened by overhunting, but due to their rapid breeding time, the population has not reached the level of critically endangered or otherwise.

The Gambian rat is an animal native to Africa that was introduced to Florida, USA. This large, highly prolific, omnivorous rodent poses a threat to ecological communities. It is also a vector for a number of diseases that affect humans and is likely to become an agricultural pest if it reaches the Florida mainland.

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