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Rodent Facts

What are some of the weirdest rodent facts you’ve ever heard?

Did you know rats are the only mammals who chew their food? Or that they can live without water for weeks at a time? These are just a few of the strange things rodents do.

Rodents are animals that belong to the order of rodents or Soricomorpha. They include mice, squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines, prairie dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, voles, gerbils, chinchillas, capybaras, jerboas, and agoutis.

Rodent Facts for Kids

  • Most rodents are small.
  • Rodents are primarily herbivorous.
  • They have good senses of smell, hearing, and vision.
  • They are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Underground tunnels are dug by some rodents.

Types of Rodents

There are different types of rodents all over the world, and we’ve listed just a selection of them below.

Mice

A mouse is a small mammal that is commonly known for its pointed snout, rounded ears, body-length scaly tail, and breeding rate.

They are smaller than rats. Mice are classified in the genus Mus, but the term mouse can apply to other genera, such as deer mice.

Rat

Rats are medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the Rodentia order. The term rat is used to distinguish them from smaller rodents.

The black rat and brown rat originated in Asia and are bigger than most Old World mice.

Facts for Kids
Facts for Kids

The common species of rats are opportunistic survivors that often live with and near humans. They may cause substantial food losses, especially in developing countries.

Squirrels

The squirrel family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels (including chipmunks and prairie dogs), and flying squirrels. They are most closely related to the beaver and the dormice.

Squirrels are small animals with bushy tails and large eyes. Their fur is soft and silky, though thicker in some species.

Most squirrel species have four or five toes on each foot and can descend a tree head-first by rotating their ankles 180 degrees.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks eat seeds, nuts and other fruit, buds, grass, shoots, and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They also eat some grains and vegetables that are grown by humans.

Chipmunks eat seeds, nuts and other fruit, buds, grass, shoots, and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They also eat some grains and vegetables that are grown by humans.

Porcupines

Porcupines are large rodents with sharp quills to protect them from predation. They belong to the infraorder Hystricognathi and are distantly related to the capybara and beaver.

Porcupines are large, slow, and rounded, with white and brown coloration, and have similar protection to hedgehogs and echidnas.

Porcupines in North America are herbivores, and they eat leaves, herbs, twigs, and green plants such as clover. In Africa, they eat bark, roots, fruits, and berries, as well as farm crops.

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs are herbivorous burrowing rodents found in the grasslands of North America. They have five species, the most common being black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah, and Mexican prairie dogs.

Prairie dogs are important in the food chain, being part of the diet of animals such as the black-footed ferret, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, American badger, and coyote, who have complex communication and social structures.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are rodent species that are closely related to the guinea pig but are not native to Guinea. They are domesticated animals that originated in the Andes of South America and are used as livestock in some parts of the world.

Guinea pigs have been widely popular pets since the 16th century, and organizations devoted to the breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide.

Hamsters

Hamsters are rodents commonly kept as pets. The best-known species are the golden or Syrian hamster, Campbell’s dwarf hamster, winter white dwarf hamster, and Roborovski hamster.

Hamsters have short tails and fur-covered feet. They feed primarily on seeds, fruits, and vegetation and occasionally eat burrowing insects.

Voles

Voles are small rodents related to lemmings and hamsters but with larger, hairier tails, smaller ears and eyes, and different molars.

They are small rodents that grow to 8 – 23 cm (3 – 9 in) in length. They have 5 to ten litters per year, one month to adulthood and three weeks to gestation.

Voles resemble several small animals and eat nearly any nut or fruit. They readily girdle small trees and ground cover, eat dead animals and kill young plants.

Gerbils

A Mongolian gerbil is a rodent used in science and kept as a small house pet. Its use in science dates back to the latter half of the 19th century.

They live in grassland, shrubland, and desert, including semidesert and steppes. The soil is sandy, and the temperatures can get up to 50°C.

Gerbils in the wild usually live in patriarchal groups, with one dominant female and one pup per group.

Chinchillas

Chinchillas are a species of rodent found in the Andes mountains of South America. They live in colonies called herds at high elevations and are related to the chinchilla rat.

”’The chinchilla” has the densest fur of all mammals that live on land. It is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who used to wear its dense, velvet-like fur.

Capybaras

The capybara is a giant cavy rodent native to South America and a member of the genus Hydrochoerus. It is found in savannas, dense forests, and lives near bodies of water.

They have a barrel-shaped body, reddish-brown fur on their upper body, and yellowish-brown fur beneath. It has sweat glands in its upper hairy parts.

Capybaras eat grass during the dry season and switch to reeds during the wet season, but they also eat their own feces as a source of bacterial gut flora. They regurgitate food to masticate it again, similar to cud-chewing by cattle.

Jerboas

Jerboas are hopping desert rodents found throughout North Africa and Asia that can run at up to 24 km/h (15 mph). They are preyed on by little owls in central Asia.

They are bipedal rodents that hop, skip, and run, allowing them to evade predators relative to quadrupedal rodents. They make burrows near plant life or hills and plug the entrance to prevent predators.

Agoutis

A few species of agouti live in the southern Lesser Antilles and northern South America. They are similar to guinea pigs but larger.

They are Central American rodents with cylindrical crowns on their molar teeth. They may grow to be up to 60 cm (24 in) in length and 8 lb (4 kg) in weight.

In the wild, Agoutis are solitary animals and live in hollow tree trunks or burrows among roots. They swim well and are able to keep hunting dogs occupied for hours.

Characteristics

Rodents are generally small animals with squat bodies, short limbs, and claw-like nails. Some species can hop at 48 km/h ( 30 mph) and have well-developed dexterity in their front paws.

They have good senses of smell, hearing, and vision, long, sensitive vibrissae for touch, and can turn their cheek pouches inside out to clean them. They are extremely efficient at digesting food and produce hard and dry fecal pellets.

Habitats

Rodents are one of the most widespread groups of mammals found on every continent except Antarctica. They have adapted to almost every terrestrial habitat and have thrived in human-created environments.

Some rodents play important roles in maintaining healthy forests, and beavers and prairie dogs alter the paths of streams and rivers and increase the number of herbaceous plant species in riparian areas.

Behavior

They are a large group of mammals that exhibit a variety of social behavior. They include the only known mammalian caste system of some mole rats, the extensive “town” of the colonial prairie dog, and the independent, solitary life of the edible dormouse.

Brown rats normally live in small colonies with one male and up to six females sharing a burrow.

The prairie vole is monogamous and has a life-long pair bond. The male defends a territory against other males and also helps to raise pups.

The black-tailed prairie dog is the most social of all rodents. It forms large towns that may cover many hectares, and its members are friendly with each other but hostile towards outsiders.

Two eusocial mammal species, the naked mole-rat and the Damaraland mole-rat live underground in colonies of up to eighty individuals. These species have only one reproductively active female and one to three males in each colony.

Communication

Rodents can recognize close relatives by olfactory cues from urine, feces, and glandular secretions and also communicate with their kin using major histocompatibility complex genes and non-volatile major urinary proteins.

Are Rodents Omnivores

The rodent family is considered omnivorous since many species eat other animals such as birds, fish, eggs, and small aquatic animals.

Rodent Predators and Threats

Humans have always eaten beaver and nutria, used their fur for clothing, and raised capybara for meat and leather.

Rodents are hunted because they are disease vectors or reservoirs or because they are a favorite meal of owls and other birds of prey.