Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My new neighbour - Rattus lutreolus, the native swamp rat

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.
Fossil records for Rattus lutreolus date back around 4000 years making it a relatively new animal in Australia, but without the yuk factor of recent arrival, rattus rattus, which is thought to have arrived here with the First Fleet a little over 200 years ago. Rattus rattus are the ones to watch out for; they carry fleas which in turn carry diseases which are harmful to humans (think in terms of the bubonic plague or black death) and will happily take up residence in homes and generally create havoc.

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!
Swampy doesn't appear in the photo above, however behind the dragon it's possible to see the scattered soil covering the right half of the tiny pond which used to be water right up to the yam (with the heart shaped leaves) and water chestnut to the left of the yam (it looks a bit like a stiff grass). It's now mostly covered in, as a result of enthusiastic digging and pushing pebbles aside, which might, with a bit of luck suit those plants better!

Further information is available here and some basic identification information from the Museum of Victoria here.



Bob Scotney said...

Great post. Sue. Rabbits are what we have to watch out for. caught a baby one recently and gave it a good talking too, telling it we eat rabbits at our house. No deterrent! It's back and just sits and looks at me - until I clap my hands!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - so pleased it's not vermin! Interesting the wildlife said he's happy here, he's chosen his place of residence .. let him be enjoy his/her antics ..

Yesterday three magpies were harassing a young fox cub .. I'm not sure if one magpie got nobbled, but certainly the cub was very irritated by it all!

Cheers Hilary

Sue Travers said...

thanks Bob. Rabbits are a pain here - not where we live now, but in a former house they kept trying to burrow under the house. No amount of severe words made any difference. Good luck, and keep clapping!

Hilary, yes it was a relief! I love watching animals going about their business, especially when a small one appears to be getting the better of a large one!

Michelle said...

Oh Sue, Swampy could not of found a better best friend! He has sure made himself at home though with his burrowing!

Sue Travers said...

Michelle, what I hadn't bargained for is the distractor element. None of my clients have noticed him yet, but one day I'm expecting a horrified shriek followed by my explanation about why he's allowed him to stay.

Emily richardson said...
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