The cotton rat, or Sigmodon, is a small rodent whose scientific name means simply “five teeth.” This seems to be fairly disrespectful to this interesting creature, who has far more going for it than to be named after its limited dental spectrum. As their common name implies, they may be found frequently living in cotton fields and are sociable and friendly mammals by nature.
Unlike other rats, the cotton rat is an herbivore, eating only plants. They are sociable creatures and are not known to be aggressive or even harbingers of disease like many other species. Cotton rats are even quite attractive, appearing similar to a hedgehog without the offending prickly coat.
Cotton Rat Identification
The cotton rat looks like a cross between a rat and a hedgehog. It is easily identified as a common rodent, but it may not be classified at first as a rat, due to its less than rat-like appearance. It has a dense fur that is flecked with dark brown and black. Cotton rats are usually pudgy, like a hamster or guinea pig, and have two sets of short, stubby feet and hands which help it move and be able to build shelter for protection from many predators. These rodents can be found living in gardens and even in the home on occasion.
Cotton rats are usually between five to eight inches in length but may grow larger, and their tale is almost as long as their body. They have two very small ears, which may be hidden by their fur; their front legs are shorter than the back. Cotton rats have large, black eyes, and they can appear in a variety of colors including gray, brown or black. Their tails are almost always a fleshy pink or pale gray. They have a short, neat face, which is reminiscent of many common rats and an even neater, shorter neckline.
Cotton Rat Habitat
Cotton rats have many habitats in which they thrive. They are known domestically throughout Canada, America and Mexico. Their population numbers generally localize in any one area, but are dotted throughout these and neighboring countries. In America, they are known to plague rice fields in Texas or across the plains of Kansas and have been found in both the northern and southern states.
Cotton rats occasionally eat insects but predominantly live on green plants, and as such, they are considered an agricultural pest. They have a wide range of predators and often seek shelter to protect them from birds of prey and larger mammals. They are intuitive and may use man-made materials as shelter or build their own from locally gathered materials. Their cover requirements are an essential part of their habitat.
Life Cycle of Cotton Rat
Cotton rats are considered prolific breeders. A female may have up to ten litter per year, and from this, up to eight pups in a litter. Cotton rats breed year-round, as soon as the mother has completed her time with her litter, she is almost ready to breed once again. Like many species, Cotton rats show a preference to mate during the cooler months so that the young will develop in a time of abundance, but as they have such a varied diet and habitat, this can almost be at any time. Warmer months simply accelerate the breeding process.
Cotton rats are mammals, and as such, the female will give birth to her young, who will be able to open their eyes and walk within a few days. She will care for them during this time of vulnerability and will lead them to independence quickly thereafter. Males are slightly larger in size once they are mature, but show no other significant differences.
Cotton Rat and Humans
While white rats (more commonly known as “lab rats”) may be best known for their importance in scientific testing on a general basis, the cotton rat holds esteem within the laboratory not for its ability to be tested on without affecting the results, but for it’s unique ability to provide possible answers.
Cotton rats have a very high immunity and are currently being studied for a plethora of possible immunizations and treatments affecting many of modern diseases. Their immunity extends heavily into human-specific diseases and are considered highly valuable for this reason. They also have a wide range of opportunities to provide pathogens, antibodies, immunological methods and other highly desirable medical benefits.
Cotton Rat Control
To discourage cotton rats, preventative measures include basic maintenance of building and gardens to ensure a less than desirable habitat. The grass should be kept low and fences and supporting structures to crawlspaces should be closed off correctly. Cotton rats can move from the countryside to your yard and into your home with little disruption and breed rapidly therein, focusing on small geographical areas.
Bait stations: Are often recommended when dealing with Cotton rats. They are similar to mouse traps, which may also be used, and lure in the rodent with something edible, trapping them or contaminating them with a pesticide that kills them. These require regular maintenance and attention to detail when working with hazardous materials.
Protection: Always used protective gloves when handling rats. Even though the cotton rat is a particularly clean breed, there is always a risk it may have come into contact with other rats or less than desirable creatures or diseases.
Sanitation: No matter which pest you are fighting, feces are usually always a problem. This is especially important where large populations can create quiet a mess. Hire a professional if you don’t want to handle it yourself, and always use correct protective clothing and products for sanitation purposes.
Cotton Rat Zoology
The cotton rat belongs largely to the animalia kingdom and are classed as a mammalia, or mammal, much like every other rat. They are also a part of the rodentia family which includes other common rodents. Their subfamily is the sigmondontinae under the family cricetidae. They are closely related to many rodents that are native to America and share many genetic characteristics of their rat counterparts.
The main defining difference in cotton rats among the rat species is their herbivorous diet, in which green grasses and plants are eaten, and the fact that they do not carry diseases like many other rats, though they are able to transmit the HPV virus on their fur. They have an exceptionally high immune system and are otherwise safe and are researched on this principle.