No, it isn’t some nightmare bred from the sewers of New York City. The rat squirrel is the common name of a rodent known as the Laotian rock rat. This name, of course, comes from the fact that they look like a cross between a rat and a squirrel. This species is relatively unknown, as humans only discovered them in 2005. Read on to learn about the rat squirrel.
Description of the Rat Squirrel
This little rodent looks like a rat with a bushy squirrel tail. Unlike squirrels, their tail usually lies behind them, more like a rat. They have a rather elongated snout, round ears, and a relatively large head.
Riding on their rat nickname, they also have dark grey fur, and black eyes. With their tails, they measure just over a foot in length.
Interesting Facts About the Rat Squirrel
This small rodent is actually quite mysterious to science. Researchers have only studied this species for a relatively short period of time. Here are some things we do know about the rat squirrel.
- Nighttime Foragers – These little rodents hide in their dens during the day, and come out at night to look for food. They are nocturnal, and are generally only active at night, dusk, or dawn.
- Home Sweet Cave – This species is incredibly picky about where it makes its home. They primarily choose karst slopes and towers as their dens. These areas are regions where rain and water cause various soft rock formations to form caves and crevices.
- Rat Coelacanth – Some scientists believe that this species of rodent is part of a previously extinct family, Diatomyidae. The last known member died off about 11 million years ago. If they are correct, this makes the rat squirrel a “living fossil,” much like the coelacanth.
Habitat of the Rat Squirrel
These rodents live only in a single type of habitat. They inhabit karst limestone habitats, which are rocky regions with various caves and crevices. The forests surrounding the habitat are evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.
Because they are so picky in their habitat preferences, this species would likely suffer drastically if habitat destruction became a greater issue in their region.
Distribution of the Rat Squirrel
Rat squirrels live only in a small region of Laos, primarily in five communities. Scientists found these rodents in Thuong Hoa, Quang Binh Province, Hoa Son, Minh Hoa District, and Trung Hoa.
In some areas, the rodents had smaller populations, and in others the populations were higher. Scientists have not conducted thorough investigation in the regions surrounding these areas to determine if the rat squirrel’s population extends farther.
Diet of the Rat Squirrel
This species is primarily herbivorous, but does occasionally eat insects. They usually only come out to eat at night, and often feed on a variety of different plants.
Some of their favorite types of plant matter are leaves, buds, seeds, fruits, berries, and roots. When they do eat insects, they hunt cicada, grasshoppers, praying mantis, and more.
Rat Squirrel and Human Interaction
The native people in these regions rely heavily on hunting to survive. The vast majority of villagers hunt for their food.
They do not target the rat squirrel specifically. Rather, they set traps in the forest and use whatever creatures they happen to capture. However, the IUCN lists this species as Least Concern, but acknowledges their population is decreasing.
Humans have not domesticated this species in any way.
Does the Rat Squirrel Make a Good Pet
If you want to fly out to Laos, trek into the wilderness, locate the precise regions and habitats that this species lives in, brave potential predators to find it at night while it is out and about, and you successfully capture one… by all means, knock yourself out. However, for the most part, this species is not a practical pet.
Rat Squirrel Care
No zoos have kept this species in captivity. However, speculation suggests that they would find it quite difficult to perfectly replicate the rock rat’s habitat preferences. Because they live only in limestone karst formations, zoos would likely find it difficult to keep this species.
Behavior of the Rat Squirrel
Most of what scientists know is usually through brief glimpses during observation and discussion with locals. These rodents are nocturnal, and most active at night. During the day, they retreat into limestone caverns and crevices. Their social habits are unknown at this time.
Reproduction of the Rat Squirrel
Scientists have not been able to research the rat squirrel’s reproductive strategy. Their gestation period, courting behavior, and nursing period are all unknown. Scientists do, however, believe that they give birth to a single offspring at a time.