Saturday, 16 September 2006

Rat-atouille

While at Lake Eacham, I spent a lot of time (well, a small amount of time) waiting for an opportunity to photograph a skittish white-tailed rat. I eventually snapped this one raiding the bird food on my verandah. And then I got photo opportunities all over the place. Although they are solitary (and possibly territorial), there was enough nosh around to support two individuals. When they met, they engaged in skirmishes until one scuttled off into the undergrowth, grumbling.

They are great climbers but are a little ungainly when clambering up wide tree trunks. This rat hauled itself up, apparently making a great effort. As they can weigh up to 700g, it's hardly surprising that they're not all that agile under testing circumstances. But give them something more to their liking and they are amazingly dextrous.

That rather magnificent tail isn't truly prehensile but rats wrap it around objects when climbing. On several (unphotographed) occasions, I wandered out onto the verandah at night to hear a thud and see a white tail coiled around the verandah post, while the rat hid on the other side.


Although they prefer vegetable matter, they'll eat eggs and small animals if they come across them. They open coconuts with their chisel-like incisors and do the same to tins of food. I made sure the door and windows of my lodge were shut each night. My fondness for white-tailed rats doesn't extend to sharing my dining table with them. They may be shy but they are rats, after all.

White-tailed rats (Uromys caudimaculatus) are common in rainforest and wet sclerophyll in north-east Queensland. They also occur throughout New Guinea.

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