Polk County residents asked to be on lookout for woodrats

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 4, 2019

In a joint effort to expand the knowledge and understanding of the flora and fauna of Polk County, Conserving Carolina and botanist/ecologist David Campbell are asking for the public’s help in locating this month’s “Polk County’s Most Wanted — Animal,” Southern Appalachian eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana haematoreia) or “packrat.”

In North Carolina, woodrats can be found in the southeastern portion of the state, along the coast, as well as in the southwestern portion of the state, in the mountains. The distribution of woodrats in the midlands and upper piedmont, however, is not well understood.

Woodrats use a wide variety of habitats, particularly rocky areas in deciduous, mixed or pine forests. They can be found in forests that are dry, such as rocky outcrops on steep slopes, or in mesic (moist) areas, including coves, bottomlands and swamps. They also occur in old fields and clear cuts.

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Woodrats are opportunistic and forage on berries, stems, buds, leaves, seeds, fruit, bark, fungi, insects, acorns and other nuts.

When looking for woodrats, there are two obvious items that will indicate their presence: large bulky nests and latrines.

Nests are built inside a large “house” constructed of sticks, leaves, branches and scavenged litter, hence the nickname “packrats.” The nest structures are often located in or under rock outcroppings, in large cavity trees, in large slash piles or in abandoned buildings.

Latrines are often found on a rock ledge, where large piles of droppings accumulate.

The eastern woodrat has gray-brown or rusty brown fur on the back, a white belly and white paws. There is also a bit of white on the underside of the jaw.

The tail is covered with short fur and is nearly as long as the body. Woodrats have long whiskers and large ears that are furless. They also have relatively large eyes and rather blunt snouts.

Males are slightly larger than females.

In North Carolina, the status of this species is Watch Category 2, a species that is rare to uncommon in North Carolina but not considered to be declining or otherwise in trouble. There are records of Southern Appalachian eastern woodrat from Polk County, as well as counties surrounding Polk.

Those who think they have seen eastern woodrats in Polk County can send photos, questions or comments to Pam Torlina at Conserving Carolina by phone at 828-697-5777, ext. 300, or email at pam@conservingcarolina.org, so the agency can document the animal’s occurrence in Polk County.

Those interested in learning more about the “Polk County’s Most Wanted” project may visit conservingcarolina.org/polk-most-wanted.

– Submitted by Pam Torlina