My new best friend, now officially named Swampy! At least I hope he'll be a friend considering that the swamp rat or Rattus lutreolus is a protected mammal and setting traps of the terminal variety is a definite no no.
In contrast, Rattus lutreolus is a shy inoffensive creature, dieting on insects, funghi, seeds and grassy stems, and I've been assured by the Museum of Victoria that they don't pass on ghastly diseases. Given that this little fellow (or possibly girl - I have no idea which) arrived unannounced on Saturday this is good news.
The Discovery Centre at Museum Victoria has a service where you can email them a photo for identification purposes. So, on Sunday, when it was obvious that a creature of a rat like appearance had begun burrowing near my very small pond and compact rockery, (small mounds of scattered pebbles and dirt were a dead give away) I sat patiently by the window, camera at the ready and spent far too much time enchanted by the scampering, munching, skittish little creature. I got the photo above and promptly emailed it to the Museum, not expecting a reply for weeks as per the advice on the web site. However within a couple of hours they'd got back to me - that's impressive!
My concern is that the swamp rat's penchant for digging burrow systems and constructing runways will be bad for our garden. *Wails - I'm new to this permaculture business, give me a chance and please leave my yam, lemon grass and the water chestnut alone!
I phoned the wildlife rescue people thinking they might take him to what I'd consider a better location, but was told quite firmly that the rat has chosen my backyard and it knows what it's looking for. They won't assist by relocating it which would most likely lead to it dying because a more dominant creature wouldn't take kindly to an intruder dumped on its doorstep.
So it looks like we'll be neighbours for a while yet, or at least till he moves on, or a wandering cat gets him. (We don't own a dog or cat so there was no home grown deterrent). In the wild, owls and other birds of prey would be the main predators of the swamp rat though he does seem quite nervous when the pigeons land nearby and darts incredibly quickly behind the pots. Unlike some rats, they're active both day and night which makes for good entertainment and photography!
Further information is available here and some basic identification information from the Museum of Victoria here.