Furry little Otomys visitor

Untamed indigenous gardens have some special benefits as was revealed at a home in Beacon Bay on the 1st December 2017. An adult vlei rat, Otomys irroratus, followed a clearly marked run from its saucer-shaped nest to an open feeding area of grass. It was shortly followed by a pair of youngsters who cautiously started feeding close by.

rodent november1

Ten species of the genus Otomys occur in Africa and O. irroratus is illustrated here. Photos: Kevin Cole                      

Vlei rats are wholly herbivorous and their digestive tract shows some advanced specialisation. The feeding trait is illustrated above where the  plant material was bitten off at the stem by the adult and then picked up in the mouth and grasped on either side by the paws and short 20-50 mm pieces cut off and chewed. Also noticeable is that this individual is sitting in a semi-upright position on its haunches while feeding. They are anti-social animals and tend towards isolation in adulthood.

Unlike other rat species only two or three precocial young are born at a time with their incisors slightly erupted (so as not to cause too much discomfort to the female while suckling).

Snakes and owls prey on the species  and in Beacon Bay mongooses and genets (large-spotted)  would also find them a tasty food source.

References:

The rodents of southern Africa by G De Graaff

The mammals of the southern African subregion by JD Skinner and RHN Smithers

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About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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