Allegheny Woodrat Alan Hicks

Allegheny Woodrat
Alan Hicks

Class
Mammalia (Mammals)
Family
Cricetidae
State Protection
Endangered
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S1
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
G3G4
Vulnerable globally, or Apparently Secure - At moderate risk of extinction, with relatively few populations or locations in the world, few individuals, and/or restricted range; or uncommon but not rare globally; may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either G3 or G4.

Summary

Did you know?

The Allegheny woodrat is not closely related to the European rats, such as the Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus). It is more closely related to the White-footed Deermouse (Peromyscus leucopus) or North American Deermouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007).

State Ranking Justification

There is a single potentially extant occurrence in New York that represents a recent rediscovery. The population at this location is small and possibly unstable. The general belief is that the species was extirpated from all other locations in the state by 1987 (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). A reintroduction effort in the Shawangunks in Ulster County in 1990 was unsuccessful due to subsequent infection by the raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) in the released animals (McGowan 1993).

Short-term Trends

Although the species was rediscovered at a single location in the early 2000s, this probably does not represent a population increase as this is the northernmost limit of a larger population that extends north from New Jersey's only known (meta)population. Thus, it is made up of immigrants that occasionally occupy a small patch of habitat. Data from New Jersey's monitoring program shows the species barely hanging on in that state, with the total population size estimated at fewer than 50 individuals and the subsite closest to New York being uninhabited in 2017 (Menasion 2018, Grietzer 2018).

Long-term Trends

Formerly this woodrat occurred throughout much of the lower Hudson Valley at over 50 different locations. A decline in the numbers and range of this was first noticed in the 1940s and the decline was severe by the mid-1970s. The species is believed to have been extirpated from the state by 1987 (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). A reintroduction effort was attempted at two locations in Ulster County in 1990, but these attempts failed. The cause of the failure of these reintroduction attempts, and believed to have been responsible for the extirpation of this species from the state, is the nematode Baylisascaris procyonis, or raccoon roundworm (Hicks 1989, McGowan 1993, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). This nematode normally lives in the intestinal tract of raccoons and its eggs are shed in raccoon feces. While this parasite does not adversely affect raccoons, it will cause mortality in other species if the eggs are ingested. The combination of the foraging behavior of woodrats and the widespread contamination of woodrat habitat with infected raccoon feces, resulting from an increase in raccoon numbers in New York in the past, likely explains why woodrats recently became more susceptible to this deadly parasite.

Conservation and Management

Threats

LoGuidice (2006) describes the confluence of several stressors beginning after European settlement which led to the severe range retraction at the northern range boundary in the northeast. These include: large scale deforestation and conversion to agriculture, loss of the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) in the early 1900s as a winter food source, extensive habitat fragmentation after WW II, Gypsy moth defoliation of oaks in the 1960s-70s, recovery of mast competitors (deer, turkeys) since the 1960s, and the last straw-- raccoon roundworn from increased raccoon populations since the 1970s. Manjerovic et al. (2009) presented data suggesting that climate warming has also palyed a detrimental role. The raccoon roundworm parasite (Baylisascaris procyonis), combined with a small population size, makes the single New York site subject to possible extirpation at any point in time (Smyser et al. 2012). Raccoon roundworm eggs persist in the environment and this factor continues to be a threat at extirpated locations in New York (see Long-term Trends for a description of this parasite).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

There is a large body of literature pertaining to the reintroduction of Allegheny woodrats at extirpated sites. See Blythe et al. (2014), Smyser et al. (2013), Serfass (2008), Poole et al. (2013), Menasion (2018).

Research Needs

At formerly suitable sites, the examination of raccoon latrine densities and raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) infection rates in raccoon latrines are necessary to determine the time period for these locations to become suitable again. An experimental release should again be conducted to determine if apparently suitable sites can sustain woodrat populations (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2006). The Palisades population should be thoroughly surveyed or monitored on a periodic basis, logically in conjunction with New Jersey surveys.

Habitat

Habitat

Throughout the range, the Allegheny woodrat is associated with extensive rocky areas. These rocky areas include rock outcrops and ledges with associated boulders and talus slopes. Woodrat habitat also includes caves and former mines in these rocky locations (e.g., old iron mines in the Hudson River Valley). Woodrats tend to avoid humans, but the species will sometimes use abandoned buildings (NatureServe 2007). The habitats that formerly supported woodrat populations is generally at higher elevations, although in New York it has been documented to occur along the Hudson River at or near sea level.

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Acidic talus slope woodland (guide)
    An open to closed canopy woodland that occurs on talus slopes (slopes of boulders and rocks, often at the base of cliffs) composed of non-calcareous rocks such as granite, quartzite, or schist.
  • Appalachian oak-hickory forest (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on well-drained sites, usually on ridgetops, upper slopes, or south- and west-facing slopes. The soils are usually loams or sandy loams. This is a broadly defined forest community with several regional and edaphic variants. The dominant trees include red oak, white oak, and/or black oak. Mixed with the oaks, usually at lower densities, are pignut, shagbark, and/or sweet pignut hickory.
  • Chestnut oak forest (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on well-drained sites in glaciated portions of the Appalachians, and on the coastal plain. This forest is similar to the Allegheny oak forest; it is distinguished by fewer canopy dominants and a less diverse shrublayer and groundlayer flora. Dominant trees are typically chestnut oak and red oak.
  • Hemlock-northern hardwood forest (guide)
    A mixed forest that typically occurs on middle to lower slopes of ravines, on cool, mid-elevation slopes, and on moist, well-drained sites at the margins of swamps. Eastern hemlock is present and is often the most abundant tree in the forest.
  • Ice cave talus community (guide)
    A community that occurs on rocks and soil at the base of slopes of loose rocks (often below cliffs; these are talus slopes) that emit cold air. The emission of cold air results from air circulation among the rocks of the talus slope where winter ice remains through the summer. The vegetation is distinctive because it includes species characteristic of climates much cooler than the climate of the area where the ice caves occur.
  • Oak-tulip tree forest (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on moist, well-drained sites in southeastern New York. The dominant trees include a mixture of five or more of the following: red oak, tulip tree, American beech, black birch, red maple, scarlet oak, black oak, and white oak.
  • Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit (guide)
    A community that occurs on warm, dry, rocky ridgetops and summits where the bedrock is non-calcareous (such as quartzite, sandstone, or schist), and the soils are more or less acidic. This community is broadly defined and includes examples that may lack pines and are dominated by scrub oak and/or heath shrubs apparently related to fire regime.
  • Red cedar rocky summit (guide)
    A community that occurs on warm, dry, rocky ridgetops and summits where the bedrock is calcareous (such as limestone or dolomite, but also marble, amphibolite, and calcsilicate rock), and the soils are more or less calcareous. The vegetation may be sparse or patchy, with numerous lichen covered rock outcrops.
  • Rocky summit grassland (guide)
    A grassland community that occurs on rocky summits and exposed rocky slopes of hills. Woody plants are sparse and may be scattered near the margin of the community. Small trees and shrubs may be present at low percent cover.

Range

New York State Distribution

The Allegheny woodrat is at the northern extent of its range in New York State with only one possibly extant occurrence in Rockland County. This species historically occurred in at least three counties in the Hudson River Valley, on the west side of the Hudson River, from the Palisades at the New York-New Jersey border north through the Hudson Highlands and the Shawangunk Ridge (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). Researchers have discovered prehistoric evidence of woodrats (i.e., bones over 20,000 years old) as far north in the Hudson River Valley as Albany (Hicks 1989, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007).

Global Distribution

The range extends from western Connecticut (formerly), southeastern New York (virtually extirpated), northern New Jersey, and northern Pennsylvania southwestward through western Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and northern and western Virginia (from the Blue Ridge westward) to northeastern Alabama (observed in several cave systems) and northwestern North Carolina (Hall 1981), with isolated populations north of the Ohio River in southern Ohio (where recent surveys failed to locate this species) (W. Peneston, pers. comm., cited by Mengak 2002 in NatureServe 2007) and southern Indiana (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998). Although Hall (1981) showed Neotoma magister in the northwestern corner of Georgia, the Tennessee River is generally accepted as the southern range limit.

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The Allegheny Woodrat's pelage is grayish-brown with white underparts. It has large eyes and ears and a long bi-colored tail that is completely furred (NatureServe 2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). The coloration has been described as follows: "In winter the coloration above is buffy gray to pale cinnamon, heavily overlaid with black. The head and the sides of the body are buffy gray, while the axillae, or armpits, are creamy buff. The throat, belly, and feet are white, the fur being white to the roots except along the sides of the belly, where the basal color is pale leaden gray. The tail is sharply bicolored, blackish brown above, white below. The summer pelage is slightly paler and shorter. Immatures are grayer than adults, particularly on the belly" (Godin 1977 in NatureServe 2007). The approximate total length is 14 to 17.5 inches (35.5 to 44.7 cm), the tail length is about 6 to 8 inches (16 to 21 cm), and the weight is approximately 0.8 to 1.1 pounds (394 to 500 grams) (Godin 1977), with males averaging slightly larger than females (NatureServe 2007). A ventral skin gland which produces a strong, musky, odor is present in both males and females and the musky odor is especially noticeable in breeding males (NatureServe 2007).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

The overall large size and tail that is completely covered with hairs, approximately one-third of an inch long and prominently bicolored, is distinctive.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Adult

Behavior

The generally nocturnal (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007) Allegheny Woodrat is basically a solitary and territorial animal and each usually lives alone, except during the breeding season and when raising young (NatureServe 2007). Allegheny Woodrats are found in population clusters, largely due to the patchiness of the habitat the species occupies (rock outcrops, talus, and caves) (NatureServe 2007) and these clusters function as metapopulations (Hassinger et al. 1996). The home range is small and has been reported as 0.26 to 0.6 ha (approximately 0.6 to 1.5 acres) (Wright and Hall 1996). Foraging mainly takes place within the rocky habitat, but may extend beyond the rocks for up to 160 meters (525 feet) (Wright and Hall 1996). Woodrats can disperse significant distances between patches of suitable habitat, from 0.3 to 1 km (McGowan 1993) or greater, but as distances increase, the odds of successfully traveling between patches of rock may decrease (NatureServe 2007). Female woodrats become sexually mature in five to six months with some females breeding in the same season as their birth, although they usually become sexually mature during the spring following their birth (Hicks 1989, Wiley 1980). The breeding season is reported as late winter to late summer, with a gestation period of 30 to 38 days (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007, Birney 1973), and the young are born from March to September ( Merritt 1987, NatureServe 2007). Females usually produce one or two litters of one to three young annually (Hicks 1989). Middens, or piles of sticks and other debris gathered by woodrats, can be found near the nests (NatureServe 2007), which are composed of finely shredded bark and similar materials (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). A portion of the materials found in woodrat middens and nests is cached food (NatureServe 2007). There may also be miscellaneous bits of trash, bones, and animal feces in these areas (NatureServe 2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). Woodrat scats are deposited in specific locations, known as latrines, and these latrines are used by one or more individuals (NatureServe 2007). Urinating spots are also used in a similar fashion (Schwartz and Schwartz 1959). The lifespan of the Allegheny Woodrat has been reported to be more than three years in the wild (Fitch and Rainey 1956), but, as mortality is normally high, it may be shorter. Woodrats are known to chatter their teeth or stomp their hind feet when agitated (Wiley 1980).

Diet

Woodrats are primarily vegetarian and eat a variety of food items including green leafy material, twigs, nuts, berries, and seeds (NatureServe 2007, Hicks 1989). Fungi may be a significant part of the diet (Newcombe 1930). The seed pods of Royal Paulownia (Paulonia tomentosa) have been reported as winter food in New Jersey (Beans 1992) and this plant is present in the single extant location in New York.

Best Time to See

Primarily nocturnal; most active during first few hours of darkness; less active on moonlit nights (Wiley 1971); more active on cloudy, rainy nights than on clear ones (Rainey 1956, Tate 1970). Active throughout the year but tends to remain "indoors" during bad weather (Poole 1940).

  • Active

The time of year you would expect to find Allegheny Woodrat active in New York.

Similar Species

  • Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus)
    The Norway Rat may be confused with the Woodrat, but differs in that it has a naked or slightly hairy tail with the skin clearly visible beneath (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007). The tail of the Allegheny woodrat is completely covered with hairs approximately one-third of an inch long and is prominently bicolored; nearly black above and white below (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2007).

Allegheny Woodrat Images

Taxonomy

Allegheny Woodrat
Neotoma magister Baird, 1858

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Mammalia (Mammals)
        • Order Rodentia (Rodents)
          • Family Cricetidae

Additional Resources

References

Beans, B. E. 1992. Without a trace: the puzzling demise of the Allegheny woodrat. Audubon Magazine January/February.

Birney, E. C. 1973. Systematics of three species of wood rats (genus Neotoma) in central North America. Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. Misc. Publ. No 58.

Blythe, R.M., Smyser, T.J., Johnson, S.A. and Swihart, R.K., 2015. Post‐release survival of captive‐reared Allegheny woodrats. Animal Conservation 18:186-195.

Burt, W. H., and R. P. Grossenheider. 1976. A field guide to the mammals. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 289 pp.

Castleberry, S. B., W. M. Ford, P. Bohall Wood, N. L. Castleberry, and M. T. Mengak. 2001. Movements of Allegheny Woodrats in relation to timber harvesting. Journal of Wildlife Management 65:148-156.

Cudmore, W.W. 1983. The distribution and ecology of the eastern woodrat, Neotoma floridana, in Indiana. Indiana State University, Indiana. Ph.D. Dissertation.

Dowda, H., A. F. Disalvo, and S. Redden. 1981. Naturally acquired rabies in an eastern wood rat (Neotoma floridana). J. Clin. Microbiol. 13(1):238-9.

Fitch, H. S. and D. S. Rainey. 1956. Ecological observations of the woodrat (Neotoma floridana). University of Kansas Pub. Mus. Nat. Hist. 8:499-533.

Garland, T., Jr. and W. G. Bradley. 1984. Effects of a highway on Mojave Desert rodent populations. American Midland Naturalist 111:47-56.

Godin, A. J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 304 pp.

Grietzer, E., 2018. The Study and Analysis of Historic Allegheny Woodrat (Neotoma magister) Sites (Master's Thesis, Montclair State University).

Hall, E. R. 1981a. The Mammals of North America, second edition. Vols. I & II. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York. 1181 pp.

Hamilton, W. J., Jr., and J. O. Whitaker, Jr. 1979. Mammals of the eastern United States. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York. 346 pp.

Handley, C. O., Jr. 1991. Mammals. Pages 539-616 in K. Terwilliger, coordinator. Virginia's endangered species: proceedings of a symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Hassinger, J. , C. Butchkoski, D. Diefenbach. 1996. Fragmentation effects on the occupancy of forested Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) colony areas. Paper presented to Allegheny Woodrat Recovery Group Meeting. Ferrum College, Ferrum, Virginia.

Hayes, J. P., and M. E. Richmond. 1993. Clinal variation and morphology of woodrats (Neotoma) of the eastern United States. J. Mamm. 74:204-216.

Hayes, J. P., and R. G. Harrison. 1992. Variation in mitochondrial DNA and the biogeographic history of woodrats (Neotoma) of the eastern United States. Systematic Biology 41:331-344.

Hicks, Alan. 1989. New York State Endangered Species Recovery Plan for the Allegheny woodrat, Neotoma floridana magister. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Delmar, NY 12054.

Hicks, Alan. 1989. Whatever happened to the Allegheny woodrat? New York State Conservationist, March-April: 34-38.

Linzey, D. W., and A. V. Linzey. 1968. Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. J. Elisha Mitchell Sci. Soc. 84(3):384-414.

LoGiudice, K. (2006). Toward a synthetic view of extinction: a history lesson from a North American rodent. BioScience 56:687-693.

Manjerovic, M.B., Wood, P.B. and Edwards, J.W. 2009. Mast and weather influences on population trends of a species of concern: the Allegheny woodrat. The American Midland Naturalist 162:52-62.

McGowan, E. M. 1993. Experimental release and fate study of the Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister). Appendix I- Unpubl. Rpt., Endang. Spec. Unit, Div. of Fish and Wildlife, New York State Dept. of Envir. Conser.

Menasion, A., 2018. A Population Characterization of Allegheny Woodrats (Neotoma magister) in the Hudson River Palisades of New Jersey (Master's Thesis, Montclair State University).

Mengak, M. T. 2002. Reproduction, juvenile growth and recapture rates of Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Virginia. American Midland Naturalist 148:155-162.

Merritt, J. F. 1987. Guide to the mammals of Pennsylvania. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

NatureServe. 2007. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 6.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Accessed: December 19, 2007).

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Department of Enviromental Conservation. 2007. Allegheny woodrat fact sheet. Available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6975.html. (Accessed on December 11, 2007).

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources. 2006. New York State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Albany, NY: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Newcombe, C. L. 1930. An ecological stody of the Allegheny cliff rat (Neotoma pennsylvanica Stone). J. Mamm. 11:204-211.

Oxley, D. J., M. B. Fenton and G. R. Carmody. 1974. The effects of roads on populations of small mammals. Journal of Applied Ecology 11: 51-59.

Patterson, R. C. 1933. Notes on Neotoma pennsylvanica, with special reference to the genital organization. Proc. West Virginia Acad. Sci. 33(15):38-42.

Poole, A.K., Novosak, B.A., Gooley, A.C., Ing, D.M., Bluett, R.D., Carter, T.C. and Feldhamer, G.A. 2013. Reintroduction of the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana) in southern Illinois. Southeastern Naturalist, 12:1-11.

Rainey, D. G. 1956. Eastern woodrat, Neotoma floridana: life history and ecology. Univ. Kansas Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist. 8:535-646.

Schwartz, C. W., and E. R. Schwartz. 1959. The wild mammals of Missouri. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri.

Serfass, T.L. 2008. Reintroduction of woodrats: Concepts and applications. In J.D. Peles, J. Wright (eds.). The Allegheny Woodrat: ecology, conservation, and management of a declining speices (pp. 169-191). Springer, New York, NY.

Smyser, T.J., Duchamp, J.E., Johnson, S.A., Larkin, J.L. and Rhodes, O.E., 2012. Consequences of metapopulation collapse: comparison of genetic attributes between two Allegheny woodrat metapopulations. Conservation Genetics 13:849-858.

Smyser, T.J., Johnson, S.A., Page, L.K., Hudson, C.M. and Rhodes, O.E., 2013. Use of experimental translocations of Allegheny woodrat to decipher causal agents of decline. Conservation Biology 27:752-762.

Whitaker, J. O., and W. J. Hamilton. 1998. Mammals of the eastern United States. Comstock Publishing, Ithaca, New York.

Wiley, R. W. 1980. Neotoma floridana. Am. Soc. Mamm., Mammalian Species No. 139:1-7.

Wilkins, K. T. 1982. Highways as barriers to rodent dispersal. Southwestern Naturalist 27: 459-460.

Wright, J. 1998. Radiotelemetry study of experimental recolonization of an Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) population. Final Report to Wild Res. Cons. Fund.

Wright, J. and J. S. Hall. 1996. Radiotelemetry study of movements and resource use by Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Pennsylvania. Report to Pennsylvania Game Comm. Wild Res. Fund, Project #SP247621.

Links

About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: June 10, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Neotoma magister. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/allegheny-woodrat/. Accessed September 22, 2019.

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