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The Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus), also known as the African giant pouched rat, is a nocturnal pouched rat of the giant pouched rat genus Cricetomys. It is among the largest muroid in the world. It is widespread in Africa, ranging geographically from Senegalmarker to Kenyamarker and from Angolamarker to Mozambiquemarker (although it is absent from much of the DR Congomarker, where Emin's pouched rat is present) and in altitude from sea level to 2000 m. It is also an invasive species in Grassy Keymarker in the Florida Keysmarker.

Characteristics

The Gambian pouched rat can grow to be as big as a small raccoon and can weigh up to . It has very poor eyesight and so depends on its senses of smell and hearing. Its name comes from the large, hamster-like pouches in its cheeks. It is not a true rat but is part of a uniquely African branch of muroid rodents.

In its native Africa, this pouched rat lives in colonies of up to twenty, usually in forests and thickets, but also commonly in termite mounds. It is omnivorous, feeding on vegetables, insects, crabs, snails, and other items, but apparently preferring palm fruits and palm kernels.

Unlike domestic rats, it has cheek pouches like a hamster. These cheek pouches allow it to gather up several kilograms of nuts per night for storage underground. It has been known to stuff its pouches so full of date palm nuts so as to be hardly able to squeeze through the entrance of its burrow. The burrow consists of a long passage with side alleys and several chambers, one for sleeping and the others for storage.

The Gambian pouched rat reaches sexual maturity at 5–7 months of age. It has up to four litters every nine months, with up to six offspring in each litter.

Males are territorial and tend to be aggressive when they encounter one another; otherwise, this rodent is extremely friendly and has become popular as an exotic pet. It is intelligent, social and can be very gentle if handled from an early age.

In Africa, it is routinely eaten as bushmeat. It (and other mammals) are referred to by the pidgin name of "beef".

Invasive threat in Florida

Currently, these rats have become an invasive species on Grassy Keymarker in the Florida Keysmarker. Perry et al. (2006) confirmed that animals found on the island are, in fact, representative of a breeding population and are not isolated escapees. It is unknown how the rat was released to the wild, and there is fear that if the rats reach Key Largomarker, they could invade the Evergladesmarker and cause great ecological damage. As fruit eaters, the rats also pose a huge agricultural threat to South Florida, prompting USDA leadership in the trapping effort. Peterson et al. (2006) determined through computer modeling that C. gambianus (and, to a lesser degree, C. emini) has strong potential to be successfully invasive across much of the mainland USA, particularly the Southeast. Biologists say it would compete for food with native species, carry diseases, and damage the bird population by eating their eggs.

This outsized African rodent is also believed to be responsible for the current outbreak of monkeypox in the United Statesmarker. In 2003, the United States' CDC and FDA issued an order preventing the importation of the rodents following the first reported outbreak of monkeypox. Around 20 individuals were affected. Several African species are believed to carry the disease.

In September 2008, the FDA and CDC have lifted the ban on pouched rats as pets in the United Statesmarker. They are still illegal to import from outside the USA.[437467]

Ability to detect land mines and tuberculosis by scent

A Belgianmarker company, APOPO, trains Gambian pouched rats to sniff out land mines and tuberculosis. The trained pouched rats are called HeroRATS.

See also



References

  1. Rat & Mouse Gazette: African Giant Pouched Rats as Pets, July/Aug 1997


  • Novak, R.M. and Paradiso, J.L.; Walkers Mammals of the World, Vol II. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1991.
  • Perry, N. D., et al. 2006. "New invasive species in southern Florida: Gambian rat (Cricetomys gambianus)". Journal of Mammalogy, 87:262-264.
  • Peterson, A. T., et al. 2006. "Native range ecology and invasive potential of Cricetomys in North America". Journal of Mammalogy, 87:427-432.
  • [437468] - a story from National Geographic News regarding the use of giant pouched rats and bees to detect land mines in Africa


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