Rodents, Packrats, Diseases

22 May

Rodents has been and will continue to be a part of the mountain wildlife. And the Rocky Mountains are not an exception.
In fact, did you know that in terms of individuals, rodents are most numerous mammals there are?

We will introduce you with the Rocky Mountains rodent types, habits and things you should watch for.

Rocky Mountains Rodents Types

The following is the list of rodents that you can meet in the Rockies.
– Beavers
– Pocket gophers
– Jumping mice
– Porcupines
– Mice and Rats, native to the Rocky Mountains.

All of these rodents share one important characteristic – their teeth. Rodent’s teeth continue to grow all their life. They are sharp and used for gnawing. And although they are carrying disease, (something that we will cover later in the article), they are very important for the Mountain eco-system. Regardless if they are building wet lands or they are simply food for predators, the rodent plays an important part of the mountain wildlife ecosystem.
We are not going to cover all of these rodents here, but only one of  the most common  in this area.

Bushy-tailed woodrat – native to the Rocky Mountains

Bushy wood Tailed Rat

Photo courtesy of R.B. Forbes, Mammal Images Library of the American Society of Mammalogists

The Bushy-tailed woodrat belongs to Muridaeto family of woodrats.  Although they are eight woodrat species in North America, only the Bushy-tailed is with residence in Colorado and the area. They are also very territorial. The bushy-tailed woodrat is the largest of the woodrats: their body length is 7-9 inches and they weight 200 to 600 g.   The rats  natural habitats are boreal forests, temperate forests,  dry savanna, temperate shrub land, and temperate grassland.
This rat resemble a lot of those sewer rats in cities: they have round large ears and bushy tail. They are excellent climbers,  and be careful – they have very sharp claws.

Where can you find them the most?  Well, they usually climb cliffs or hide in caves, but on many occasion a hollow tree can also be their home. Speaking of which, it’s also no wonder if you notice one of this rodents in your home as well.

Interesting thing with these rats is that they make  a  self-made nest – from various objects – sticks, matches, leafs etc.  Also, these rodents will store food for the winter – berries, dry leafs etc. The bushy-tailed woodrat does not  travel a lot.  In fact, they  almost never abandon their site (nest). Some even say that this is not their rest nest at all, but a shelter for their food instead.

Although we cannot be sure about their life span, –  some of them have  lived for almost 6 years.
Some of the first things you will notice about (around) them, will be the smell of urine. They also urinate to mark their territory.

However, they are not messy. They defecate differently from where they live, eat and drink.

They are also known as Packrats

These rodents got this nickname from their habits to “take stuff, especially shiny objects. They usually will drop whatever they are carrying, if they see something else they like.

In some  cases, valuable missing objects  can be missing from your home, camp site or cabin  – and these  rodents  can be  held responsible – its amazing what they can  steal.


The Bushy-tailed woodrat is an omnivorous – their diet is from dry leafs, insects and mostly green vegetation.

How to catch them – and move them to another location

Like we already said, don’t be surprised if you see one of these little buggers in our home. Especially if you live near  mountains sites.

But, it’s not difficult to catch them and move them out. This usually works with a live trap and piece of bread. Whatever you use, make sure it cannot be removed easily, or else they will “pack it” for their collection. Something important to remember is that when you release the rodent in a location, make sure that is not near your vehicle – because they can easily climb back in.

Diseases Packrats carry that can affect Humans

As promised before, let’s see what kind of diseases  these rodents may have.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a virus that rodents carrying.  Human can be infected with this on three ways:

1) – If a rodent bites you,  this however, is something that almost never happens

2) – If you touch something that was contaminated with the rodent urine or salvia and then touch your mouth and nose.

3) – Eating something that was already infected with the virus.

Getting this virus can be fatal. Thirty-six percent from all reported cases have resulted in death

People infected with this virus have experienced the same symptoms as the regular flu: fever, muscles aches, fatigue and vomiting.

This virus doesn’t transfer from one person to another. If you are in contact with someone that is infected, not to worry – you will not get it.  The same thing goes for blood transfusions – if you receive a blood from someone infected, you will not be.

There are also many cases from infected campers claimed that they never been in contact with the rodent urine or salvia.  So lookout if you are in a area where you know that these animals live, regardless if you can see them or not.

Also, rodents are potential source of allergies. If you are bitten, scratched or with contact with a dead rodent, you will experience systems from Rat-Bite fever….Let’s not forget that rats were the ones who brought the black plague that wiped half the planet, after all.

In your home, always use protective googles and gloves to clean up after the rats. Or better yet, try not to attract them in the first place. Don’t leave any open food containers or easy reachable food.

We truly hope that this article gave you more insight about mountain rodents and their habits.




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