New York Natural Heritage Program
Allegheny Woodrat
Neotoma magister Baird, 1858

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The Allegheny Woodrat's pelage is grayish-brown with white underparts. It has large eyes and ears and a long bi-colored tail that is completely furred (NatureServe 2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). The coloration has been described as follows: "In winter the coloration above is buffy gray to pale cinnamon, heavily overlaid with black. The head and the sides of the body are buffy gray, while the axillae, or armpits, are creamy buff. The throat, belly, and feet are white, the fur being white to the roots except along the sides of the belly, where the basal color is pale leaden gray. The tail is sharply bicolored, blackish brown above, white below. The summer pelage is slightly paler and shorter. Immatures are grayer than adults, particularly on the belly" (Godin 1977 in NatureServe 2007). The approximate total length is 14 to 17.5 inches (35.5 to 44.7 cm), the tail length is about 6 to 8 inches (16 to 21 cm), and the weight is approximately 0.8 to 1.1 pounds (394 to 500 grams) (Godin 1977), with males averaging slightly larger than females (NatureServe 2007). A ventral skin gland which produces a strong, musky, odor is present in both males and females and the musky odor is especially noticeable in breeding males (NatureServe 2007).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The overall large size and tail that is completely covered with hairs, approximately one-third of an inch long and prominently bicolored, is distinctive.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]

Behavior [-]
The generally nocturnal (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007) Allegheny Woodrat is basically a solitary and territorial animal and each usually lives alone, except during the breeding season and when raising young (NatureServe 2007). Allegheny Woodrats are found in population clusters, largely due to the patchiness of the habitat the species occupies (rock outcrops, talus, and caves) (NatureServe 2007) and these clusters function as metapopulations (Hassinger et al. 1996). The home range is small and has been reported as 0.26 to 0.6 ha (approximately 0.6 to 1.5 acres) (Wright and Hall 1996). Foraging mainly takes place within the rocky habitat, but may extend beyond the rocks for up to 160 meters (525 feet) (Wright and Hall 1996). Woodrats can disperse significant distances between patches of suitable habitat, from 0.3 to 1 km (McGowan 1993) or greater, but as distances increase, the odds of successfully traveling between patches of rock may decrease (NatureServe 2007). Female woodrats become sexually mature in five to six months with some females breeding in the same season as their birth, although they usually become sexually mature during the spring following their birth (Hicks 1989, Wiley 1980). The breeding season is reported as late winter to late summer, with a gestation period of 30 to 38 days (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007, Birney 1973), and the young are born from March to September ( Merritt 1987, NatureServe 2007). Females usually produce one or two litters of one to three young annually (Hicks 1989). Middens, or piles of sticks and other debris gathered by woodrats, can be found near the nests (NatureServe 2007), which are composed of finely shredded bark and similar materials (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). A portion of the materials found in woodrat middens and nests is cached food (NatureServe 2007). There may also be miscellaneous bits of trash, bones, and animal feces in these areas (NatureServe 2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). Woodrat scats are deposited in specific locations, known as latrines, and these latrines are used by one or more individuals (NatureServe 2007). Urinating spots are also used in a similar fashion (Schwartz and Schwartz 1959). The lifespan of the Allegheny Woodrat has been reported to be more than three years in the wild (Fitch and Rainey 1956), but, as mortality is normally high, it may be shorter. Woodrats are known to chatter their teeth or stomp their hind feet when agitated (Wiley 1980).

Diet [-]
Woodrats are primarily vegetarian and eat a variety of food items including green leafy material, twigs, nuts, berries, and seeds (NatureServe 2007, Hicks 1989). Fungi may be a significant part of the diet (Newcombe 1930). The seed pods of Royal Paulownia (Paulonia tomentosa) have been reported as winter food in New Jersey (Beans 1992) and this plant is present in the single extant location in New York.
Allegheny Woodrat Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Primarily nocturnal; most active during first few hours of darkness; less active on moonlit nights (Wiley 1971); more active on cloudy, rainy nights than on clear ones (Rainey 1956, Tate 1970). Active throughout the year but tends to remain "indoors" during bad weather (Poole 1940).
The time of year you would expect to find Allegheny Woodrat active (green shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus)
    The Norway Rat may be confused with the Woodrat, but differs in that it has a naked or slightly hairy tail with the skin clearly visible beneath (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). The tail of the Allegheny woodrat is completely covered with hairs approximately one-third of an inch long and is prominently bicolored; nearly black above and white below (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007).